How Not To Manage A Crisis – TLC

When a crisis hits, a brand wants to respond quickly, sincerely in addressing the crisis and demonstrate how they are working to ensure that what happened will not occur in the future. For example, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the issue of domestic abuse among NFL players within days of the media firestorm and announced the NFL would be working with domestic abuse advocacy groups to bring greater awareness of domestic abuse and its prevention. All of this is essential in rebuilding a brand after a crisis.

TLC, the television network showed what not to do in rebuilding a brand after a crisis. The network has been the subject of severe criticism for its handling (or mishandling) of the scandal involving Josh Duggar of TLC’s number one show, “19 Kids and Counting”.

Josh Duggar admitted in May to sexually molesting underage girls including several of his sisters. While the admissions were shocking, they should not have been to TLC. These allegations about him have been around for a number of years. The Oprah Winfrey Show was aware of these rumors and reportedly contacted a child protection hotline.

Yet when the story broke last week, surprisingly TLC did not seem to realize the intensity of public revulsion and anger that would develop. The day Duggar admitted to sexually molesting underage girls and apologized for his actions, TLC was running a “19 Kids and Counting” marathon. Sponsors were quick to pull away from the show but not TLC. Only belatedly did the network announce that it was pulling the show from its schedule but not necessarily canceling it. The network also issued a tepid note of sympathy towards Duggar’s victims.

On July 16th, nearly two months after the scandal broke and sponsors deserted in swarms did TLC finally announce it was cancelling “19 Kids and Counting”. On July 17th, TLC announced that it was teaming up with two prominent child-protection organizations for an ongoing campaign to raise awareness about child sexual abuse. The multi-platform initiative will begin with a one-hour, commercial-free documentary likely airing in late August, the network said. It will include the participation of Jill and Jessa Duggar, two of the sisters Josh Duggar touched inappropriately, as well as other survivors and families affected by such abuse. This is all part of repositioning the network as “a brand with purpose” TLC claimed in a press release.

The public reaction has been one of deep skepticism and disbelief. This belated attempt in dealing with the crisis has caused even more bad coverage for the network.

So what did TLC do wrong?

  1. Waited too long in announcing it was cancelling the show. Any scandal involving children is something that nobody ever recovers from. TLC should have immediately cancelled the show and issued a strong statement expressing outrage and condemnation at Josh Duggar’s actions and strong sympathy for his victims. Rather by delaying the cancellation, TLC gave the impression fairly or unfairly that it was hoping that the storm would subside and it could bring back its number one rated show. There was no way possible that this could happen. The longer that TLC waited the worse it became for the network. Cancelling the show two months after the scandal broke was too little, too lat.
  2. Casting Jill and Jessa Duggar in its August special about child sexual abuse. Speculation has been rampant since the scandal broke, that TLC would cast the two in their own spinoff show in an attempt to keep the show around and its ratings. By having Jill and Jessa Duggar in this special it gives the appearance of being done for ratings and also to set the stage for a spinoff for the two. TLC still has not said if will or won’t launch a spinoff with Jill and Jessa Duggar.
  3. Fail to show that it really gets what was wrong and address allegations that the network knew well in advance about Josh Duggar. As long as these suspicions remain, the TLC brand is tarnished.

TLC has a long way to go before the public believes that it is “a brand with purpose” outside of high ratings. Other brands can take note from it on what not to do.

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