Undoubtedly you have already heard about the major major macho faux pas committed by GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons. He posted an online video profiling his exploits killing an African elephant. The video went viral and has shone a negative spotlight on Parsons, and by association GoDaddy. PETA and other animal lovers are outraged, and there has been a huge backlash. Social media guru Peter Shankman put a call out to his social media following (which is sizable) to switch domain providers. Even Hollywood stalwart Cloris Leachman launched a Twitter campaign to hit Parsons where it hurts – in the pocketbook – by directing followers to rival Network Solutions.
In response to his critics, Parsons remains adamant that his actions were innocent and even altruistic. It’s not that he was hunting elephants. He was helping the natives by taking down rogue wildlife that was ruining the crops of the locals and promoting starvation. This from a recent post on Entrepreneur.com:
“Parsons, 60, told CBS News he believed people’s "hearts were in the right place" in criticizing him, but they misunderstood his intention, which was to help starving people and stop elephants from destroying crops in Africa.
“Several comments posted to the video questioned why the cameras zoomed in on villagers wearing orange Go Daddy hats. But the video wasn’t part of a company marketing initiative, a company spokeswoman says, adding that it was "something Bob, the individual, edited and posted." After complaints, the close-ups of the Go Daddy hats and still photos of Parsons posing with the dead elephant were removed.”
Sound a little disingenuous to you?
Parsons violated one of the first laws of crisis communications – show empathy. He completely missed the boat in empathizing with his critics. And he missed a golden opportunity to take the high road, admit that he may have been wrong, and find ways to make this right which would create a whole new cadre of loyal customers. Instead, he became defensive, evasive, and pointed to his critics saying that he was misunderstood.
In fact, Parsons created this crisis by being stupid, then tried to cover his error by being arrogant. He created the crisis and then violated a number of the basic rules of crisis communications:
1. Apply conclusive action: Be decisive and affirmative and move quickly to head off collateral damage. Instead, Parsons entered into a Twitter war that fueled the flamers rather than calming things down.
2. Bring unassailable behavior: In a crisis, the element of surprise often catches executives off-guard, which leads to foolish behavior and mistakes. Parsons didn’t take a beat and assess his situation to make himself unassailable. Instead he attacked his critics, which reinforced his wrongdoing. He didn’t accept responsibility for a mistake in judgment.
3. Use humane words and be empathetic: He totally missed the target here by being an apologist rather than empathetic. He is so busy defending himself that he continues to alienate his customers and potential customers by not acknowledging their position. By standing his ground his is alienating himself from his audience.
I couldn’t help but recall the old Grouch Marx joke, “One morning I shot an elephant in my Pajamas and how he got in my pajamas I’ll never know.” In this case, Parson and his crisis communications team seem to have been caught napping, and as a result, it looks like the emperor has no clothes.