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Combating A Crisis of Confidence

Case Study: Combating a crisis of confidence
By Matt Ellis & Jack Heath

Recently, one of Massachusetts best known companies found itself combating a crisis of confidence. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts has earned a solid reputation for providing an affordable solution to health care costs. But, that reputation took a hit when the news media reported the company's former chief executive was handed an $11 million golden parachute. It got worse when the media published the salaries of the Blue Cross board of directors. The group of high profile Boston business and academic leaders was earning large, five figure salaries to conduct board business.

Why did this new ignite a firestorm of negative press? Health care costs are a top concern for citizens, politicians and small business owners. On its website, Blue Cross Blue Shield says, "Our highest priority is to make health care affordable." But, in light of the headlines and TV reports, that didn't seem to fit.

The media loves a big target, particularly when it can show the target was acting without the concern of the public. So what do you do when the media gets you in their crosshairs?

In the days when we ran newsrooms in Manchester, Boston and Providence, one of our primary goals was to uncover the wrongs done by people and organizations. The media's role is to be a watchdog and protect public trust. In our roles today as media consultants, we take the immediate and necessary steps to protect our clients' reputations. Sometimes that means going toe to toe with the media; other times it means re-framing the discussion to take the heat off.

In the case of Blue Cross Blue Shield we would have insisted the company responded to its critics quickly and consistently. We noted the irony that while the website pointed out the importance of making "health care affordable," their public statements focused on the pending investigation by the Office of the Attorney General. Blue Cross' spokesman was quoted in the Boston Globe saying, "We have been very transparent about this issue from the beginning, and we will continue to be transparent. And of course we would answer any questions that the attorney general's office has."

A fine answer but not what the public needed to hear. When your company is on the brink of losing the public's confidence, your best response is one that addresses the core issue and frames it around your mission statement. Over the life of your company you've earned equity with the public, it's wrong to let that slip away by missing the message.

Every one makes mistakes; the key is to seize the opportunity to strengthen your bond with the public. As former CEO Jack Welch once said, "I've learned that mistakes can often be as good a teacher as success."

To learn more about media consulting from Matt Ellis and Jack Heath visit

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