The fallout following anti-semitic remarks by Dior designer John Galliano was entirely predictable. Galliano departed with scarcely a whimper and Dior itself quickly distanced itself from his rabid views.
But was the crisis itself equally predictable? And could it have been prevented? And why did Dior apparently have to hire PR crisis management experts only AFTER the crisis had struck? According to The Hollywood Reporter Dior hired crisis consultant firm Kekst to “help mitigate the damage” to fashion house’s reputation.
The details of what happened behind the scenes with Galliano will probably never be made public, but the case is a stark reminder of the need for properly planned issue management and crisis prevention, especially for a high profile brand which is so vulnerable to public sentiment.
Dior did all the right things in response, and Galliano was persuaded to issue an abject apology. But was his behaviour truly “unexpected.”
Research around the world shows that most “sudden crises” are in fact preceded by warning signs which could have and should have been acted upon.
In some cases, especially of individual misdemeanour, organizations deliberately turn a blind eye to the views and actions of highly talented people which would not be tolerated in “ordinary employees.” The case of Charlie Sheen stands out as obvious example (though he is simply the latest Hollywood star whose misbehaviour was “permitted” for far too long)
Over protecting highly profitable talent is very understandable – whether it’s misbehaving Hollywood stars or star designers or business executives who deliver massive profits and rapidly increasing share price while harbouring personal behaviour which puts the organization at risk.
But from the point of view of issue and crisis management the lesson is clear. Individual misbehaviour can shred reputation and profits, and organizations must put effective crisis prevention plans in place long before it all turns into tabloid headlines.
Note: The Hollywood Reporter later issued a correction, saying that Keskt had been working for Dior prior to the Galliano incident. My views on the organizational risks of individual misbehaviour stand.