Helio Fred Garcia: Ethics & Crisis Communication

Author, professor and crisis communicator Helio Fred Garcia joins Tim to talk about ethics and crisis communications. Fred has had a long career at the highest levels advising organizations of all sizes on crisis communications and crisis management matters. In this conversation, we Fred tells his story, and he talks candidly about the kinds of ethical issues and dilemmas those of us in the crisis communications field face every day.

Crisis Communications

Before we meet our guest today, it may be worth setting the stage by giving you a little background on what exactly we mean when we talk about crisis communications or crisis management.

Sometimes, people think a crisis is when something goes wrong at work, or when an organization’s social media page gets bombarded with negative feedback. To be sure, these can certainly be indicators of a crisis, but they are not crises in themselves. In other words, a bad day for a company or an organization does not a crisis make.

At the same time, no company or organization is immune from crises. A crisis is when something happens, could happen or may happen where the very operations of the organization are threatened.  Here are some examples:

  • A bankruptcy filing;
  • A labor strike;
  • A train derailment;
  • A chemical spill;
  • A boycott of a famous brand;
  • Sexual harassment allegations;
  • Major litigation – you get sued;
  • Or, a viral social media post that totally disrupts the organization.

These are just some examples.  For the past 35 years, I’ve been one of those in the public relations fields who handles such crises.  In that time, I’ve handled hundreds of crises for clients. I’ve seen it done right, and I’ve seen crises handled horribly.

Over the years, I’ve become aware of others in the crisis communications field who’ve built strong reputations for themselves in the process. Helio Fred Garcia is one of those people. When we sat down for this interview, I wanted to know his whole story, and he told me. But my first question could best be described as “inside baseball” from one crisis communicator to another. I wanted to know what Fred saw as the more common myths surrounding crisis communications and crisis management.


About this Episode’s Guest Helio Fred Garcia

Helio Fred GarciaFor more than 40 years Helio Fred Garcia has helped leaders build trust, inspire loyalty, and lead effectively. He is a coach, counselor, teacher, writer, and speaker whose clients include some of the largest and best-known companies and organizations in the world.

He is the author, most recently, of Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront Itpublished by Radius Book Group in 2020. He is also the author The Agony of Decision: Mental Readiness and Leadership in a Crisis, Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership Press, 2017. Prior to this, Fred wrote The Power of Communication: Skills to Build Trust, Inspire Loyalty, and Lead Effectively, FT Press, 2012.

Fred is president of the crisis management firm Logos Consulting Group and executive director of the Logos Institute for Crisis Management & Executive Leadership. He is based in New York and has worked with clients in dozens of countries on six continents.

Fred has coached more than 400 CEOs of major corporations, plus thousands of other high-profile people in other complex fields, including doctors, scientists, lawyers, financial executives, military officers, and government officials. In the 1980s he worked at leading public relations firms and served as head of public relations for a global investment bank and for a large public accounting firm.  Through the 1990s Fred headed the crisis practice of a leading strategic communication consulting firm.

Fred has been on the New York University faculty since 1988. He is an adjunct professor of management in NYU’s Stern School of Business. He teaches crisis management in the MS in Risk Management program and in the  Executive MBA program.

Fred is an adjunct professor of industrial engineering and operations research at Columbia University, where he teaches ethics, crisis, and leadership in the Professional Development and Leadership program of the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. Fred is also a Senior Fellow in the Institute of Corporate Communication at Communication University of China in Beijing.  For eight years until 2015 Fred served on the leadership faculty of the Center for Security Studies of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, Switzerland, where he taught an intensive seminar in the Master’s in Advanced Studies in Crisis Management and Security Policy.  He has also served on the adjunct faculty of the Starr King School for the Ministry – Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. Since 2000, Fred has been a contract lecturer at the Wharton School of Business of the University of Pennsylvania. Since 2012, he has been a contract lecturer at U.S. Defense Information School. He also is a frequent guest lecturer at the U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College, U.S. Marine Corps Officer Candidate School, U.S. Air Force Air War College, the Brookings Institution, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and other universities around the world.

In 2011 Fred was designated an International Distinguished Scholar at Tsinghua University in Beijing, where he gave a series of lectures and workshops on effective crisis response for graduate students and senior government, corporate, and NGO leaders. In 2015 he conducted an extensive teaching and speaking tour of China, teaching in more than a dozen leading universities, including Tsinghua UniversityPeking UniversityShanghai Jiaotong UniversityNankai UniversityCommunication University of China, and Nanjing University, plus delivering keynotes at major corporate events.

Fred is a member of the Forbes Coaches Council. He is accredited by the Public Relations Society of America, and has received the Society’s New York Chapter’s Philip Dorf Award for mentoring and its John W. Hill award for lifetime achievement. In 2022, Fred participated in the U.S. Army War College National Security Seminar and received a certificate in Leader Development – National Security and Strategy.

Fred has an MA in philosophy from Columbia University and two graduate certificates in classical Greek language and literature from the Latin/Greek Institute of the City University of New York Graduate Center.  He has a BA with honors in politics and philosophy from New York University, where he was named a University Honors Scholar and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.  He received an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from Mount Saint Mary College.