What’s truly motivating Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson’s recent public relations gambit to apologize to residents of Ferguson, Missouri? We can only speculate. Perhaps re-election by an angry electorate. Perhaps genuine commitment to repair a ripped community fabric. Regardless of his motivation, leaders from Wall Street to Wisconsin can learn from the much-maligned public relations surrounding the Michael Brown shooting.
Video of Police Chief Tom Jackson during a news conferences following the officer-involved shooting appeared unprepared, uncomfortable and without command. Coupled with a simmering distrust of the police department prior to the shooting, Chief Jackson fueled the outrage by appearing incompetent. Whether he is incompetent is for others to determine. What matters to managing a public relations crisis is planning and preparation for action as well as words. Both form perception. More recent video by CNN confirmed the perceived incompetence when attempting to walk along side protesters after issuing a video-taped apology. Setting political leanings aside, leaders can learn how executive communications impact a crisis from an article outlining how the post-shooting public relations unfolded from MSNBC’s perspective.
Why choose to apologize on video?
Judging from how Police Chief Tom Jackson handled himself in unscripted media environments, he is very uncomfortable as the point person. Chief Jackson’s public relations counsel likely convinced him to produce the public relations video apology to create a more comfortable, controlled environment. The public relations optics played down Chief Tom Jackson’s authoritative appearance, opting for informal attire. His public relations message was better than when unscripted. Predictably, his attempt to apologize was criticized for being cold, untimely, and curious among others. Considering, however, his inability to deliver the high-quality executive communication required from a leader when unscripted, the public relations video likely was wise.
Reader Note: This is the first in a series of observations about the public relations efforts involved in the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department’s handling of the Michael Brown shooting. Police Chief Tom Jackson’s response as the leader of that department remains in the spotlight as he appears to be launching a public relations push to repair his brand. Next Karl James PR Blog Post: Why select CNN for the exclusive interview with Police Chief Tom Jackson?