So You've Got a PR Disaster...Now What?

A Parker couple recently made the news after an unknown person spray painted offensive language on the couple's garage, and left a noose on their front porch.  The couple, Aimee Whitchurch and Christel Conklin, rent a unit at a condominium development in Parker.

It is never good news when your association makes the news for a hate crime.  Aimee and Christel have been on most local stations, and their story is being picked up by blogs everywhere (including this one).  While the individual who vandalized the unit is the person ultimately responsible for the crime, the couple's homeowners association is feeling heat as well.

When I saw video of the garage after someone covered the offensive language, I groaned to myself.  This screen capture, taken from KWGN News, shows a sloppy attempt to hide the offending words. 

Unfortunately, the white primer does little more than to highlight the crime.

According to Whitchurch, the association is now fining the owner of the unit, so it is possible the owner initially painted over the garage.  If this is a condominium association, exterior garage painting is likely an association obligation, and this could explain the messy initial painting.  In addition, this story hit the news yesterday.  If the association is fining the owner, I question whether it followed a covenant enforcement policy, including the provisions mandating notice and the opportunity for a hearing.

Some bloggers have implied that the association has an anti-gay bias, and is somehow responsible for or condones the graffiti.  Others say that the attempt to hide the slur is an attempt to ignore the crime.  Federal authorities are investigating the crime.  In other words, the association is in the middle of a public relations nightmare.

What should an association do when faced with unwanted media attention?

First, the board should speak with a unified voice. Designate one person as the media contact. Other board members should not speak - on or off the record - with anyone regarding the matter.

Second, define the problem.  To do this, the association needs to look at the issue from multiple perspectives.  An "ongoing feud" with the association over loud parties and pet waste can be seen as hate crimes by individuals who feel targeted and marginalized.

Third, formulate a message.  The association needs to communicate its position, the basis for that position, and the actions it intends to take.  Acknowledge regret and tell people what will be done to fix the problem.  Many times, individuals think their association should take actions the association simply does not have the power to take.  Don't make promises the association can't keep.  Be clear, and project reasonableness.

Fourth, don't get defensive.  Face it - people hate homeowners associations.  They will blame the association for everything.  Owner-to-owner disputes are usually not within the purview of association responsibility, but that won't stop readers from saying the association should "do something." Don't let the vitriol that may come your association's way force you into an emotional reaction.  It will make for great news, resolve nothing, and make you look terrible.