How not to handle a crisis

  • by Bruce Mirken
  • Wednesday June 5, 2013
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San Francisco Pride CEO Earl Plante speaks at the May 31<br>community meeting held to discuss the Bradley Manning controversy.<br>(Photo: Rick Gerharter)<br><br><br><br><br><br><br>
San Francisco Pride CEO Earl Plante speaks at the May 31
community meeting held to discuss the Bradley Manning controversy.
(Photo: Rick Gerharter)

The board of San Francisco Pride has an opportunity to start healing the self-inflicted wounds to its reputation caused by its decision to remove Bradley Manning as a community grand marshal. Board members need to get it right this time.

As a reporter for many years, and a nonprofit PR person for the last 12, I've seen a fair amount of crisis management from both sides of the fence. If Pride is to right its sinking ship, the board needs to understand how badly it handled this; its members must accept that they cannot continue down the path they've been taking if Pride is to retain any credibility.

At Friday night's public meeting, thanks to the impassioned pleas of a wide cross-section of our community and a much-appreciated assist from Supervisor David Campos, board members took what could be the first step toward putting this behind them, agreeing to reassess Manning's status within seven days. But that should be only the start. Pride's handling of this should disturb even those who support the decision to remove Manning.

To be blunt, if they aren't lying to us all, they've done a brilliant job of making it look like they are.

Pride's official line, as repeated by CEO Earl Plante Friday night, is that the sudden about-face " first announcing Manning as a community grand marshal and then hastily retracting that decision " was just a procedural oopsie. It was "policy [regarding selection of grand marshals], not politics," Plante said. The problem wasn't what Manning represents politically or his actions to expose U.S. war crimes, it was just that he wasn't local and thus wasn't eligible.

So why, then, did Pride devote a full third of its original statement announcing that Manning wouldn't be a grand marshal to disavowing "even the hint of support for actions which placed in harm's way the lives of our men and women in uniform " and countless others?" Why did the statement fail to even mention what we were later told was the only reason Manning was removed?

No one running a huge community event needlessly picks that sort of a fight two months before showtime. If the reason for rescinding Manning's selection is what Plante and the board say it is, issuing that statement wasn't just inept, it was nuts.

The Pride board is not nuts.

And Pride's shifting stories have been compounded by a complete lack of transparency as to exactly when and how key decisions were made. Meanwhile, other mysteries have cropped up. A couple weeks ago, what had been a simple, online application form to become a Pride member suddenly shifted to a PDF that had to be printed out and physically mailed in. Asked about that last Friday, Plante and the board members claimed to have no idea this was the case, shrugging as if they were hearing it for the first time.

Really? Membership procedure changes in the middle of a crisis that's causing a flood of new applications, and no one in charge knows about it?

Even if the present situation is successfully resolved " a resolution which must involve Manning being honored at this year's parade as the gay American hero he is " Pride's credibility is in tatters. Even those who oppose Manning as a grand marshal should find that concerning if they truly care about this community institution.

There is only one way out of this, as every organization that's ever had a communications crisis learns " usually the hard way " and that is complete transparency. Tell the truth, even if it's difficult, so that the healing can begin. Tell us what happened. Tell us when the decisions were made, what items the board voted on, and who voted. Release the full, unedited minutes of all relevant meetings. Indeed, start posting all board minutes on Pride's website.

If the facts " all of the facts " validate the story Pride has been telling, fine. If they don't, they will come out eventually, and every day of delay will further shred Pride's already dissolving credibility.

Level with us, please. It's time.


Bruce Mirken is a longtime community journalist and activist who has handled nonprofit media relations since 2001. The views expressed are his own and not those of any organization.