It can be challenging sometimes to find much in the news that isn’t related to Brexit.
But after some extensive research, we found a remarkable story with clear lessons for anyone facing a reputational crisis.
It is a tale which starts bizarrely with a man holding up a beer money sign at a sporting event and, after being propelled to fame, ends with him issuing an apology for offensive posts.
Carson King’s story illustrates both the power of social media and the importance of good crisis media management.
The 24-year-old shot to stardom earlier this month when he held up a sign on TV saying ‘Busch Light supply needs replenished’ complete with details of how money could be transferred through Veno – a money transfer app - for the American beer.
That sign went viral and the donations poured in and, after buying one case of the beer, Mr Carson decided to send the rest of the money to a children’s hospital.
The brewery and Veno promised to match whatever he raised and so far more than $1m is heading to the hospital.
A couple of weeks ago, Carson King made a College GameDay sign that read "Busch Light Supply Needs Replenished" and requested money via Venmo.— USA TODAY Sports (@usatodaysports) September 25, 2019
Today, he's raised more than $1 million, and it's all being donated to a children's hospital. https://t.co/uFaArVdFF6
Mr King has become something of a celebrity with Busch Light offering a year’s supply of beer, with his face on the can, and his home state of Iowa holding a ‘Carson King Day’.
But then a reporter discovered some offensive posts Mr King has written when he was 16 and asked him about them during an interview for a profile article.
Suddenly, he was about to become the latest person or organisation to be caught up in the ‘cancel culture’ - a term given to the backlash a person, brand or company faces when allegations about behaviour or mistakes – often historic - come to light.
But what happened from that point on offers crisis media management lessons which organisations and people who have spent far more time in the public spotlight than Mr King can learn from.
He got ahead of the damaging story, holding a press conference before it was published,
And he took to Twitter where he issued a statement.
He called the posts “an attempt at humour that was offensive and hurtful.”
He said: “I am embarrassed and stunned to reflect on what I thought was funny when I was 16-years-old. I want to sincerely apologize (sic).
“I am sharing this information tonight because I feel a responsibility to all of the people who have donated money.
“I cannot go back and change what I posted when I was a 16-year-old. I can apologize (sic) and work to improve every day and make a meaningful difference to people’s lives.”
What I like about the apology if it feels genuine and heartfelt. It would have been easy to hide behind an ‘I apologise if I caused offence’ type line.
But that rarely works. Apologies should sound like the people or organisations issuing them are actually sorry for what has happened – not that they feel compelled to apologise.
That sense of it feeling genuine was partly created by the fact it sounds human. You get the impression those are his words, rather than those of people who might be advising him.
The fallout from the story has been intriguing.
There has been some backlash against Mr Carson - the offer of free beer was rescinded with the beer company stating the posts ‘did not align with our values’.
But Venmo has said it will continue to work with him, stating ‘none of us as adults are the same people we were in our teens’. And Iowa still went ahead with Carson King day, with Governor Kim Reynolds tweeting “You can make a mistake in your life and still go on to do amazing things.”
Additionally, the money has kept coming in.
The real backlash has been felt elsewhere.
The Des Moines Register newspaper has issued a statement of its own defending the story. And the journalist who worked on the story is ‘no longer with the Register’ after his own previous inappropriate social media posts were revealed.
A statement from our editor: pic.twitter.com/ZH9AhcrYbg— Des Moines Register (@DMRegister) September 25, 2019
The Register is aware of reports of inappropriate social media posts by one of our staffers, and an investigation has begun.— Des Moines Register (@DMRegister) September 25, 2019
How much of this outcome is due to the good deeds of the ‘beer money guy’ and how much is because of the way he handled the story, is up for debate.
But by getting ahead of the story and offering a genuine sounding apology he undoubtedly limited the damage.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
Click here to find out more about our practical crisis communication training.
Subscribe here to be among the first to receive our blogs.