The companies parting ways with Rush Limbaugh over the radio host's latest controversial remarks are following a well-established script for crisis management: Make a brief statement and move on.
"You don't have to overelaborate," said Matt Kucharski, an executive vice president with the Minneapolis public relations firm Padilla Speer Beardsley. Kucharski said he's not surprised by the terse explanations issued by most companies announcing they have pulled their advertising from Limbaugh's show.
That includes Plymouth-based Select Comfort Corp., which Friday was among the first to say it was dropping its advertising after Limbaugh said on his show that a Georgetown law student was "a slut" because she advocated female contraception. The mattress company Monday declined to say how long it had advertised on Limbaugh's program or name other shows it sponsors.
Most of the other nine defectors, which include AOL, LegalZoom and Quicken Loans, have been equally tight-lipped. An exception was Michael Rozbruch, CEO of Tax Resolution Services, who said his company, which sponsored Limbaugh's program for about a year, had been inundated by messages from online protesters who wanted him to drop the sponsorship.
"What put me on the map 14 years ago was 'The Howard Stern Show,'" Rozbruch added. He said he once had a "similar experience" with protests over Stern, another controversial radio host.
Kucharski said companies are aware of the risks of sponsoring shows with hosts like Limbaugh and Stern.
"Companies have to make the decision to go after a particular demographic, and that can mean advertising on a popular but edgier show. Otherwise they'd all be advertising on programs that are so generic that they don't offend anybody but also don't interest anybody. Advertising on 'Little House on the Prairie' is not going to reach your key demographic," Kucharski said.
Lisa Hannum, who heads the St. Paul public relations firm Beehive, agreed. "You don't have to agree with all the content on a show in order to sponsor it. But when something like this happens, a smart company is going to ask itself how its stakeholders, its customers are going to react, whether it's in alignment with the company's values and principles."
Companies need to "listen quickly," Kucharski said. "If the spokesperson isn't acting in a way that reflects the company's brands or its values, there has to be a parting of the ways," he said.
The advent of social media and digital communication has accelerated the decision-making process, said John Reinan, senior media director for Fast Horse, a Minneapolis-based marketing firm.
"Crisis management plans are balanced on a hair trigger, and everything moves at the speed of Twitter," he said. Select Comfort was among the companies that announced their decisions to drop Limbaugh via Twitter.
Kucharski said social media can sometimes tell a company it's best to simply ride out the storm and not take action.
"In some cases social media conversations self-regulate -- there's a good, spirited debate. If you step into the middle of it by doing something, you could actually make it worse," he said.
Companies that have parted ways with Limbaugh are now also being criticized on sites like Twitter and Facebook. Kucharski said that's what makes social media both a blessing and a curse.
"It creates this wonderful opportunity for you to listen to your customers," he said. "The downside is anybody who's ticked off has a brand-new avenue to tell everybody how ticked off they are."
This story contains material from the New York Times. Susan Feyder • 612-673-1723