The Bill Cosby crisis and what he’s doing wrong to address it

I’ve been a big Bill Cosby fan since I was a child. I bought his comedy records (back in the day when there were records). I have also seen him perform live at least three times, the most recent was just before the crisis hit. I always thought he was one of the best comedians out there. So I’m filled with sadness and dismay as I see him being torn apart in the news media over charges of sexual assault.

I have no idea whether Cosby is innocent or guilty. But I do know one thing: he is responding to the allegations in the worst possible way and listening to the wrong advisors about how to do so.

From the media reports, it appears Cosby is counting on his lawyers to deal with his reputation crisis. Lawyers are the ones you want to turn to when you’re in legal trouble. Public relations pros are the ones you want to count on when your reputation is at risk. There is a huge difference, and Cosby is paying the price by listening to the wrong people.

Lawyers will tell you during a crisis, “Don’t say anything! No comment!” That’s basically the strategy Cosby is taking at this point in time (late November 2014). And he’s being roasted alive by the news media.

A public relations professional will tell you: “If you’re guilty, admit it. Apologize. State what you’re doing to prevent further damage, and then move on. This will kill the news media feeding frenzy. If you’re not guilty, say so. Don’t hide behind the coat tails of your lawyers.”

Cosby also made another huge mistake in all this. During a taped news interview he not only refused to answer a question about the allegations, he then requested the reporter to delete that portion of his tape. How stupid is that? The tape has now surfaced of his request, adding further fuel to the media bonfire.

By staying silent in this controversy, by relying solely on his lawyers for advice, Cosby is allowing those making the assault allegations to control the media by having the only voice in the conversation (news coverage). Is that the strategy your company or organization would adopt if it’s hit by a crisis? One can see how foolish that strategy is by looking at how Cosby’s reputation is sinking faster than the Titanic.

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