Whatever you may think of his political views, there is no question that Rush Limbaugh is a gifted communicator and entertainer. For over two decades he has maintained an audience in the millions, dwarfing most of his talk radio competition.
But early this month, he stepped over the line (by his own admission) and launched a personal attack on a law student named Sandra Fluke. Rush eventually apologized, but by the time he did so, the damage had been done. The outburst of negative publicity led over 140 advertisers to pull their support, and caused at least one radio station to drop his program. (Rush disputes that number, noting that the majority of these advertisers actually had agreements with local stations, not Rush’s show, and that these advertisers simply requested that their ads air in a different time slot.)
Regardless of your political persuasions or your opinion of Limbaugh himself, there are important lessons to be learned from this episode. Below are three lessons that particularly stick out.
1) Come clean immediately. Rush made his initial statements during his show on Wednesday, February 29. He did not issue his apology until the weekend, and by the time he did so, the media firestorm had grown out of control. Rush and his team are smart enough to have known immediately that he made a mistake, and he would have been far better off apologizing immediately. Delaying the apology added fuel to the fire. If you or your business make a mistake, come clean as soon as possible.
2) When you apologize, it’s better to overdo it than not to do enough.When he did issue his apology, it was via a written statement on his website. Most observers found it underwhelming and immediately questioned his sincerity. The underwhelming apology then became a story of its own and stirred the media up further, rather than putting an end to the issue. (This episode brings back memories of the BP oil spill of 2010, in which then-CEO Tony Hayward apologized but also complained that he "wants his life back." Needless to say, this lack of empathy and sincerity did not play well.) It’s better to appear too sincere than not sincere enough.
3) Once you’ve apologized and made things right, turn the page. Unfortunately for Rush, he has been unable to "turn the page" and escape the media firestorm that has been sparked. His unique position as a political icon has obviously made this difficult, but you can rest assured that his PR team has been working on the challenge. When it’s you or your business facing negative publicity, it’s important that you don’t let the story linger more than it must. Apologize, make things right—and then get back to making the right kind of headlines. Maybe it’s releasing a new product, maybe it’s writing a book, or perhaps it’s going on a TV blitz. Whatever your tactics, the key is to move past your misstep and get back to the core message of your business.
Most of us will never command the level of attention that Rush routinely generates, but every business owner has a brand to build and a reputation to protect. Crisis management is an important skill to possess, and by the time you need it, it’s too late to learn. There’s plenty for us to absorb from Rush’s recent incident—so take these lessons to heart.
JW Dicks (@jwdicks) & Nick Nanton (@nicknanton) are best-selling authors who consult for small- and medium-sized businesses on how to build their business through personality driven marketing, personal brand positioning, guaranteed media, and mining hidden business assets. They offer free articles, white papers, and case studies at celebritybrandingagency.com.