The Blow Over Strategy

I’m lazy, so I’m always hunting for simple causes to complicated problems.

There’s a voice in my head saying, “It took a long time for things to get this screwed up and it will take time, thoughtfulness, effort and will to improve them.”  Of course. Thanks for that. But I’m still going to look for patterns, for leverage. I’m going to ask what in our environment is letting so many “unbelievable!” things happen?

Surely the effectiveness of the “Blow Over Strategy” plays a big role in many current disasters.

If you aren’t familiar, the term means that when you get caught doing something wrong instead of actually addressing it or being brought to account you simply wait for attention to die down.

Facebook is the most obvious master. Scandal. Mumbled half-apology. Non-existent or insufficient action. Then hunker down and wait for the all clear.

The Blow Over Strategy (BOS) exploits these weaknesses in our system

  1. Inadequate attention span.

We consume too much too fast. We don’t have time to actually consider it, so everything is processed at a superficial level (I dislike that!) and can be easily replaced in our attention by the next thing we dislike.

Just five years ago Crisis PR planning emphasized taking accountability, transparent communication, sincere apology and effective repair (when possible). Recently I see open debates about whether it’s good strategy to address PR problems or if it’s better for the company (shareholders) to use the good old BOS.

  1. Media Mechanics.

Say you are a company that screwed up. You know traditionally the “right thing to do” is apologize and take accountability. But you don’t think about that because that doesn’t seem relevant anymore unless your brand includes some kind of quaint “doing the right thing” fetish. And even if it does, you don’t know how many of your customers nor what percent of the public knows about your booboo. What you do know is that if you acknowledge it THAT will get at least as much attention and probably more.

Why? Bad news is more popular and travels faster, based entirely on what we click on.  Also your enemies (whichever side of the culture war you are perceived as not being on)  and possibly your competitors might boost the bad news along. Because you are admitting to something, your apology will be a bright spot of “not fake news” since you have no exterior motive. All this adds up to the likelihood that far more people will know you messed up because you apologized than if you hadn’t. Suddenly it feels like you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Since you can never take an apology back you decide to start with the BOS.

  1. Legal remedies are often too slow.

Even when individuals and organizations really screw up and will have to face legal repercussions they can be sure that (as long as it’s civil) the process will be so long and drawn out that the business situation will have moved on and the fines are usually (and this I don’t understand) small compared to the harm done.

  1. Other remedies are unclear – perhaps because our values are unclear.

You can imagine a world where because all citizens have access to real time information and the ability to connect to each other there exists a highly effective court of public opinion that quickly and effectively punished malfeasance.

We don’t live in that world. We live in the one where we know companies are doing bad things. Using child labor. Stealing our private information. Pricing medicine out of reach to maximize profits. Polluting the environment. Starving their employees.  For the most part we hold our noses and hang on to their stock and buy their products. After all their stock is doing really well… And their products are really cheap. And what good does it do if “I” stop supporting them? We could demand better behavior from corporations. We haven’t. We let them “self-police” and greenwash and other versions of the glorious long-form blow over strategy. For a decade or so they were shocked at our what they could get away with or blame on ridiculous unrelated groups. Now they count on it.

In my next post I will attempt to discuss ways to circumvent the Blow Over Strategy.


Photo credit:

Emanuela Franchini,’s “Dry Mouth”

Used without alteration under the Creative Commons license.






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