Readercon Stumbles Early in Its “PR Disaster” Routine, But Sticks the Landing
Happily, only good news gets old. Human folly is timeless.
So, Readercon. Like in the Susan G. Komen for the Cure public relations post-mortem a few months back, I’ll start you with a quick summary for those that didn’t catch the initial story:
- Readercon is a science-fiction convention specifically for written works (as opposed to other media) held each year in Burlington, MA. It’s one of the largest and most influential North American conventions in the field.
- July 16: Following the convention this year, attendee and author Genevieve Valentine wrote an initial blog post describing her experience with harassment at the con, stating at the time that she was in contact with the convention committee (“concom”) about the issue and generally encouraging others to a) report such things and b) not ever do such things.
- July 27: A week later the same Genevieve Valentine posted regarding the comcom’s decision to suspend the offending party from the convention for two years, contradicting the con’s written “no tolerance” policy that calls for an automatic and lifetime ban.
- July 27: Shortly after Genevieve Valentine’s post, the Readercon Board of Directors (not the same thing as the concom, worth noting) issued a Statement from the Board that tried to explain their decision, basically saying that the offending individual seemed regretful and hadn’t meant to seem harassing, and was therefore treated more lightly.
- July 28: Other women came forward in reply to Genevieve’s post and in posts of their own to describe their own experiences with harassment at the convention, and to ask the concom to stick to its no-tolerance policy. A fairly large and predictable outrage at the explanation that the policy was actually only for people who didn’t feel sorry afterward exploded in the comments on pretty much all related posts.
- July 29: The inevitable petition thread went up, calling on the Board of Directors to apply the lifetime ban, apologize, step down, and (the new Board, obviously) include previous victims of harassment in any redrafting of the policy.
On August 5 we get to the meaty part, at least as far as my interests go: the Public Statement from the Readercon Convention Committee, which is as good a piece of sword-falling as any I’ve seen in the last few years.
Really, if you don’t read anything else in this post, read through their public statement. It’s well worth your time.
On the substantive side the con did basically everything requested: apologized, booted the Board (they resigned, officially), banned the original reported offender for life, created various committees and training opportunities to focus more on safety and harassment issues, and offered refunds for anyone who had registered for next year’s convention but felt unsafe attending.
None of that is easy to do. But if it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well, and in a case like this it’s never done until you’ve surrendered on all points, making a willing and gracious admitting of wrongdoing much less painful in the long run than dragging every concession out through petitions, lawsuits, and more.
I’m sure it helped that the convention committee is steeped in the writing business and has more of a way with words than your average flak. It really was a well-written piece of “abject.” But even the best writing in the world still needs good policy behind it.
Just ask Susan G. Komen. They exploded in late January of this year, backpedaled ineffectively, and have been hemorrhaging membership and donations ever since. And just last week the president and two board members resigned, and the founder and figurehead Nancy Brinker stepped down as chief executive (though she stays on in another executive position), suggesting that the shake-up is still ongoing.
And guess what? That news made headlines, seven months after their initial blow-up.
There are only two things you can do when your company or organization fails badly, publicly, harmfully, and humiliatingly:
A) Admit complete wrongdoing, fall on your sword publicly, and clean house of everyone involved, or
B) Be so large and powerful that you can buy politicians and judges wholesale without crippling your profits.
For almost everyone that isn’t an oil company or a defense contractor, that effectively means that there’s one solution. You’d think we’d see more companies taking it.