Ok. So the absolute first question is, who in the HELL approved this billboard? It’s such an obvious PR FAILURE that I’m not even going to tell them what they did wrong; it’s obvious, I’m going to take the position of the employed PR firm that Lamar should hire to get them out of this mess. Think about it, you just told an entire race and culture, that the most dangerous place for their offspring is the exact same place where the offspring are nurtured before entering the world as we know it. It was irresponsible, it was racist, it was demeaning, embarrassing, asinine….I could go on for days, but lets explore how they can try to fix this issue and hold on to a small piece of their image as they know it.
If I was working the Lamar PR case, the first thing I would do is the first thing that anyone does in this case, damage control. Why damage control? Because it works! Do you remember the case of the Tylenol killer back in the 80’s? No, that’s right, because they PR’ed themselves from a tragedy, innovated a new solution (tamperproofing lids and caps) and that became an industry standard. So how can Lamar fix this, firstly, you have to get the CEO, not the VP, no directors, I need the CEO at a press conference today to take ALL the heat that he will deservingly receive. No matter what he thinks of the questions, no matter how redundant or rephrased, he has to take the heat, and all of it. When you mess up, you have to own up to what you did, and answer the questions of the people. Secondly, that shows that Lamar as a company, cares about the community and is serious about putting this situation behind them and moving forward. This is not the time for gatekeepers, I need the CEO in front of the press, TODAY! Not tomorrow, not next week, TODAY and EVERYDAY until all the questions are answered.
Secondly, you must find the representative that sold the space, and the person that approved the billboard, and you must terminate them, effective immediately. No leave without pay, no suspension, terminated. You need to send the message that the buck stops here, you have control of your company, and that insensitivity shall not be tolerated at any level. Here is why, you must send the message that your company is competent, even without your watchful eye. Since the billboard went from idea to reality on your watch, then the people that allowed it to get that far, obviously do not reach the standards that Lamar holds as a company, right?
Third, you must usher in a new era of transparency. This wasn’t somewhere in the backwoods, this happened in New York. The one place where everyone is supposed to be racially and culturally tolerant and instead, you allow this garbage to go up bearing your company name? After steps 1 and 2, you now must change the entire system in which advertisements reach the billboards. Think about it, you not only hurt your business, you hurt the local businesses near where you allowed the board to rise. You must now change the entire system, nationally to show America that you are serious about never letting something like this happen again. Once you adopt the new policy, whether it be all billboards are approved by a panel of culture experts, or you have to hand sign off on every board, you have to do it, stick to it, continue to deal with the media and if you do that and hold fast for about 3 months, it will all go away, and you have successfully spun Lamar out of PR purgatory.
Lastly, do not, and I repeat, do not try to explain what they were trying to say or accomplish by putting this billboard up. We know that a customer paid to have their message on your billboard, so to keep from looking like a money hungry corporation, your answer to this question is; “I am not sure what the intent was when the billboard space was purchased, but it does not match what we stand for here at Lamar Advertising, no amount of money will persuade us to put up such remarks ever again. It was a mistake by our representatives and managers, that is not what we stand for, and I personally guarantee that this will not happen again on my watch.” When asked why again (the media will ask you this question several times), tell them about the newest strategy that Lamar has enacted to prevent this from happening. Tell them about your new transparent billboard approval process and how it will cut all demeaning messages moving forward. The key here is, moving forward. Put the past behind you, show the people you are proactive in resolving the issue and manage that system. Remember, you MUST own the message in this situation which will put you on offense, but if you sleep too long, the people will tell the story, and that would really be horrible for Lamar Advertising….—Mr.PR