If the unsavoury shooting of Cecil the Zimbabwean lion has taught us anything it’s how not to manage a disaster says crisis and media trainer, Geoffrey Stackhouse, from Sydney’s Clarity Solutions in Sydney. In this opinion piece he says the global outrage is, in most parts, due to poor communications…
Walter Palmer (below), the lion killing dentist from Eden Prairie, has become an international pariah. Partly for his heinous deeds but the outrage is magnified by his arrogant and misguided communications.
In this classic crisis his comments are a text book example of how a phoney apology can ignite an online firestorm and trash an already damaged brand.
Palmer and his media advisors don’t seem to understand that all crises are about managing outrage. And because outrage is highly volatile, pure emotion – the only communication option available is to join the sadness. Anything else will be ignored or, more likely, inflame the situation.
The problem here is that Palmer has used logic to justify his actions. And when that didn’t work he said it again more emphatically. That’s like trying to communicate with a person who doesn’t speak English by yelling at them. He needs to switch from the language of logic to the language of emotion.
Palmer’s toxic statement of regret focuses purely on justifying his actions. You can’t claim to be the innocent victim without showing you deplore the crime, yet nowhere does he acknowledge the tragedy of killing an innocent and iconic lion.
Perhaps he has been conned by lazy lawyers who always argue that an apology is an admission of guilt. In most cases that’s simply not true, and in the court of public opinion it’s the only evidence that counts.
The first thing Palmer has to do is show he ‘gets it’. He must make a clear statement that he is horrified to discover he has killed an iconic animal which was part of a research project.
Talk is cheap so he needs to put some ‘skin in the game’ so to speak. He has to make a commitment to some concrete actions that demonstrate his regret. It could be a financial donation or support for lion conservation and sustainable hunting.
The icing on the cake would be a call to others to hunt responsibly or, better still, to become a passionate advocate for protecting the lions of Hwange National Park.
But Palmer’s communication fail has helped make him an international pariah and probably ended his career as a dentist. The only thing that could make this worse is a statement of support from Donald Trump.