Several of the cardinal rules in crisis communications are – always have a plan and prepare for any scenario. Yet time and again, we see organizations, brands, and celebrities forgetting those rules. The latest example of this is the scandal involving Josh Duggar of TLC’s hit show, “19 Kids and Counting”. When dealing with reality television, anything that can happen in real life can happen to a reality star, networks have forgotten this at their own peril.
Josh Duggar admitted last week to sexually molesting underage girls including several of his sisters. While the admissions were shocking, they should not have been to TLC Such 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 as the story broke last week, surprisingly TLC appeared to have been caught unprepared. The day Duggar admitted to sexually molesting underage girls and apologized for his actions, TLC was running a “19 Kids and Counting” marathon. Only belatedly did the network announce that it was pulling the show from its schedule. Yet it has not announced that it is cancelling the show. The network has also failed to express sympathy for Duggar’s victims. Advertisers on the other hand are leaving the show in droves realizing that associating their brands with a show that features an admitted child molester would be devastating.
So what should TLC do?
1. Cancel the show. The network cancelled “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” when it was revealed that June Shannon, Honey Boo Boo’s mother had dated a convicted child molester. Shannon is already calling TLC hypocritical in not cancelling “19 Kids and Counting”. She may have a point, in how do you have a show about family values with a confessed child molester as one of its stars? Advertisers are pulling the plug (as previously mentioned). The longer TLC does not cancel the show, the worst the situation will become for the network. Some extreme critics will say the network is putting ratings over child safety and tacitly condones Josh Duggar’s behavior.
2. Issue strongly worded statements of sympathy to Duggar’s victims and state categorically the network condemns such behavior and has a zero tolerance for it.
3. Launch an investigation with a credible independent investigator to find out who knew of Duggar’s actions, prior to this story. Then once the investigation is done terminate anyone involved and release the report publicly.
4. Fully train all network employees on how to handle situations that regard such allegations for the future.
5. Donate free commercial time to organizations that are involved in child protection for public service announcements.
The Josh Duggar story shows that in reality television reality can often have an ugly face. Brands and networks need to be prepared for any situation as this case shows. More importantly, TLC’s situation should serve as a reminder for any brand or celebrity the need to have a crisis communications plan ready and to be prepared for possible situations that might arise that could cause damage to a company’s or person’s reputation.