South Side of the White House

Reputation Management Crisis Lessons from Secret Service

Imagine being U.S. Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy. It’s only been a little over a month since he was appointed permanently to the top position at the Secret Service on February 18, and he’s facing yet another scandal the likes of which caused his predecessor, Julia Pierson, to resign under pressure last fall.

When news agencies blast headlines such as CNN’s “Gate-crashing agents make 4 Secret Service scandals in 3 years,” you know you have a reputation management crisis that requires immediate attention.

Lawmakers Scrutinize the Secret Service Following Recent Blunders
In our 24/7 news and social media cycle, the top Secret Service gaffes that received the most media coverage and congressional scrutiny included:

  • In 2012, after drinking binge while in Colombia for a presidential summit meeting, a dozen Secret Service agents were caught carousing with prostitutes; nearly all were dismissed.
  • Last year, during a presidential trip to Europe, an agent was found passed out in a hotel hallway after a night of partying; three agents were sent home.
  • Last fall, a man breached the White House fence and made his way into the mansion before being tackled. In a separate security failure, an armed man rode an elevator with President Obama on his visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Director Pierson resigned as a result.
  • Just last month, after celebrating a colleague’s retirement, top-ranking Secret Service officials plowed their car into a barrier at the White House that shielded a suspicious package other agents were assessing for its threat. One of the agents involved included the second-in-charge on the president’s security team.

New Reality for Reputation Management
Recent events put pressure on Joseph Clancy to not only clean up the organization and put controls in place to avoid further embarrassing and potentially dangerous incidents, but to communicate his clean-up plans broadly.  Plans should include changes in leadership, stricter policies around agent conduct on and off duty, and swifter action for non-compliance.  Without these and other actions it will be difficult to reverse negative public sentiment surrounding the agency, and ensure they are fulfilling their public security mission.

Over the past two decades, 24/7 internet and social media coverage has driven demands for new levels of transparency for all organizations, especially those in the public sector. In fact, The Wall Street Journal now has a “Crisis of the Week” column in its Risk and Compliance section where reputation and crisis management experts discuss how they would manage high-level reputation crises just like the Secret Service humiliations outlined above. Since any organization is vulnerable to reputation damage stemming from leadership and employee mess-ups, every business needs to have systems and processes in place to deal with the repercussions from these errors in judgment.

How to Use This Information
When your organization is faced with a reputation management or other sort of crisis, it helps to have an expert on your side to help with practical advice and tools to guide you through the storm—whether caused by Mother Nature or human nature. Discover how your readiness stacks up by taking our Readiness Survey. Please give us a call us at 877-833-7763 or contact us online to discuss your results.

What do you think Mr. Clancy’s first steps should be to tackle his agency’s reputation crisis?