Kirk Shewchuck, Chief Financial Officer of a telecommunications company in Lansing, MI, is facing allegations of racist comments about Native Americans. Shewchuck left a voicemail on May 20, 2014 for the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Planning Engineer concerning ACD.net’s plans to build a cell phone tower on tribal land. After leaving a voicemail about the easement, Shewchuck failed to properly hang up and was recorded saying offensive remarks towards Native Americans. Shewchuck even made a veiled threat to scramble phone signals, which has caught the attention of the Department of Homeland Security.
Tribal Chief Steve Pego denounced the racist comments of CFO Kirk Shewchuck, encouraging those in the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe to switch providers for metro Ethernet, telephone, fiber optic, and other telecommunications services. According to a representative from ACD.net, the firm is aware of the incident and willing to meet with the tribal chief to resolve the situation. To date, Shewchuck and tribal leaders have been unavailable for comment.
How to Handle a PR Crisis
While you might not face a situation similar to that of Kirk Shewchuck, the reality is that every CFO must be prepared to handle a PR crisis. Whether it’s lower than expected quarterly results, a public gaffe, or something in-between, blunders can spiral out of control and create a public image disaster. According to an interview with Ronn Torossian at Entrepreneur Magazine, the best way to handle a PR crisis is to drop everything and deal with the situation immediately.
By addressing the issue promptly, CFOs and their organizations can get “in front” of the story. Instead of using the “Let’s wait until the investigation is done” approach, CFOs that take immediate action are more apt to turn a crisis on its head.
Perhaps the best lesson of how to handle a PR crisis comes from Lieutenant-General David Morrison, Australia’s Chief of Army. When news broke of officers sharing explicit emails denigrating women, he denounced the scandal immediately. But instead of rehashing the specific charges or focusing on what happened, he spent two-thirds of his time talking about the future, the positive things about the army, and his values.
Are you focusing on the positive? Or better yet, does the public believe you to be, and are they following suit?