Archive for Mayor Sheila Dixon
Hey! Wait a minute, Ms. Dixon. It seems like yesterday you said you had nothing to apologize for when you resigned as Mayor of Baltimore. In fact, in a conversation I had with a former staff member only a few months ago, he emphatically said: “Sheila will never apologize.”
So here we are 11 months later and a Page One interview with you appears in the Dec. 10th edition of The Daily Record where you APOLOGIZE. To what purpose?
The time to have apologized, when it mattered most to the people you were elected to serve, was on January 6, 2010. But you didn’t. Instead, you concluded your brief remarks back then with: “What I owe the citizens is to move on and bring closure to this so we can continue to stay focused on the city.”
We can only hope that the recent crisis communications misstep had a shelf life of one news cycle and that’s that. Too little. Too late. And the citizens of Baltimore are doing as you advised: staying focused on the city.
That’s Sawmill Partner Susan Anthony, left, speaking with WMAR-TV Reporter Roosevelt Leftwich yesterday for a story on their evening newscast about Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon. For our national and international readers, the Baltimore mayor was found guilty this week of stealing gift cards that were meant to be distributed to needy children. A crisis PR situation if there ever was one!
The defense team kept Dixon off the witness stand during the trial, and since the jury’s verdict was announced on Wednesday we haven’t heard much from her, other than a few comments outside the courtroom and a brief “press conference” yesterday afternoon when she read a simple statement and took no questions from the media - nothing more than a move designed to deliver a soundbite for the evening news and the next news cycle.
Channel 2 contacted Sawmill Marketing Public Relations for insights into Dixon’s PR strategy and crisis communications efforts to date. Susan told Roosevelt that the Mayor needs to deliver the whole package (words, tone of voice, facial expressions, posture, et al) consistently and repeatedly before the citizens of Baltimore can begin to re-establish trust in her. She emphasized that the longer the Mayor goes without doing so, the deeper the hole she has likely dug for herself.
As if on cue, the Mayor was holding her “press conference” as Susan drove back to the office from Channel 2. She and Sawmill partner Jeff Davis commented that they could hear the nervousness in her voice as she read from the prepared statement that they agreed was an empty one.
Every crisis situation is unique and requires a unique strategy for handling the media. It may be that the smartest strategy is to reach out to the media in a managed and controlled way such as regularly scheduled briefings hosted by a trained company spokesperson where all media are invited and provided ample time for questions.
Or how about the strategy that Sheila Dixon, mayor of the City of Baltimore, recently put into practice as she continues to receive ongoing media attention and scrutiny about an investigation that is just beginning to unfold and that promises to be messy at the least!
After days of coverage by all of the Baltimore media and answering reporters’ questions wherever she went, you’d think she’d give herself a break when she was off the clock. Nope. Instead, she made an unannounced, solo appearance at a downtown restaurant where members of various local media were gathered for their regularly scheduled get together to talk shop over adult beverages.
According to Baltimore Sun columnist Laura Vozzella, Mayor Dixon joined in the small talk chatter, bought her own drink and disarmed those who had likely earlier in the day held a microphone to her face asking her to comment on the investigation. Of course, the current situation never came up and the reporters had a front row seat to see that the Mayor was in many ways just like they were: enjoying a couple of relaxing minutes with friends and colleagues after a long day at the office.
This strategy is not for everyone. It takes a level of courage, confidence and poise that not every executive can muster – especially in a crisis situation. However, the benefit of the Mayor’s strategy – taking deliberate steps to be one-on-one with them on their own turf and in a neutral situation – allows the media to see her as an individual and not only as an elected official which is almost guaranteed to be reflected in their upcoming coverage of the investigation.