Monday, January 3, 2011

United States Navy (USN) Investigates Raunchy Videos with Anti-Gay Remarks

CNN today reported that the United States Navy (USN) has launched an investigation into how a series of raunchy videos (full of sexual innuendo and anti-gay remarks) were produced and shown to the crew of the USS Enterprise in 2006 and 2007.  The existence of these videos were made public last Saturday by The Virginian-Pilot (a newspaper in Norfolk, Virginia).

In response to the crisis, the Navy issued a statement on Saturday saying that (a) the production of videos, like the ones shown on the USS Enterprise, was not acceptable then and are still not acceptable in today's Navy; (b) the Navy does not endorse or condone these kinds of actions and that leadership had "put a stop" to the inappropriate content on the Enterprise several years ago; and (c) that it is "unfortunate" that copies of these videos remained accessible to crew members especially after leadership took actions 4 years ago.

In view of the recent controversial repealing of the Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) policy by President Obama, the Navy was quick to realise that they had a crisis on their hands.  In addition, the Navy was also astute in their assessment that the videos were likely "leaked" by an insider and that the media would thus have "perfect information" on all facts related to the videos.  Hence, based on this assessment, the Navy's initial crisis response was to be timely and 100% truthful in acknowledging the incident.

After the initial response, the Navy then sought to contain the crisis by using the twin crisis response strategies of (a) minimising the crisis by demonstration that they are in control.  This they did by highlighting that they were "aware of the incident" and had "taken action 4 years ago"; and (b) seeking stakeholder sympathy by hinting that the Navy was a "victim" i.e. someone had deliberately "leaked" the old videos.

In critiquing the Navy's crisis communication strategy, I feel that the Navy failed to do a proper stakeholder analysis to identify the main stakeholder concern(s).  In my assessment, with the current controversy over the repealing of the DADT policy, the main stakeholder concern is that anti-gay slurs are condoned by the highest levels in the Navy.  If my assessment is correct, the Navy's current response of "we already took actions" is grossly off the mark and will further fuel the crisis.  After all, how can the Navy claim to have taken action, when the primary actor in the inappropriate videos was promoted to assume 1 of only 11 coveted commands within the Navy.

Hence, the key lesson for crisis communicators from this crisis is that the media will shape what stakeholders think about, why stakeholders think about it, and how stakeholders think about it.  To be effective in crafting crisis communication Messages, crisis communicators must first seek to correctly identify stakeholders' main concern.  Failing to do so, may prove disastrous.

Let's see if my assessment is correct.

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