Is PR a Cure-all in Every Major Crisis?

by coach

A couple of recent articles/posts on public relations and crisis management really got me thinking about the expectations of what PR can accomplish in a serious, large-scale crisis.

In The Washington Post, Matthew DeBord wrote a thoughtful piece: How Crisis PR Hasn’t Kept Up with the Turbulent Times. In it, he says PR’s usual role of promoting the good times could not stand up to the “evil twin, crisis PR.”

DeBord cites BP, Toyota, Goldman Sachs, Tiger Woods, Al Gore and Gen. Stanley McChrystal as prime examples of PR crisis failure in a 24 x 7 media world and the court of public opinion via social media.

I disagree. These were not PR problems. Operational failures by BP and its contractors. Gore and Woods’ liaisons. Goldman Sachs questionable investment morality. Faulty Toyota engineering and slow response. And the General’s loose lips. None of these could be cured simply by waving a magic wand or setting loose the PR pit bulls!

The problems were more about a lack of preparedness, questionable operations and decisions, the inability to solve serious problems and a failure to communicate effectively.

Another article,  The Biggest Corporate Image Catastrophes, supports my line of thinking. It highlights seven corporate catastrophes: BP, Goldman Sachs, Toyota, The Big Three (GM, Ford, Chrysler), JetBlue, Abercrombie & Fitch and Apple.

These “companies still manage to muddy their reputations with tone-deaf responses to trouble.” Further, it says they “pay CEOs hundreds of times more than their workers, treat customers like cattle, and executives rarely find themselves called to account for slimy (if not illegal behavior). And yet, some companies nevertheless manage to push our sensibilities to the breaking point and earn themselves black eyes and yards of bad press.”

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in crisis planning and crisis management. I’ve handled dozens of problems and tough situations successfully for clients. But in every winning case, they had these things in common:

  • They were prepared before the crisis with an effective crisis plan
  • They had a trained team and spokespeople in place
  • They were honest and forthright; no running for cover
  • They accepted responsibility for the situation; sometimes courageously telling their lawyers to back off because it was the right thing to do
  • They worked hard to solve the problem, putting consumers or the public first
  • Most of all, they used PR to communicate quickly, regularly and openly.

So, crisis PR is not really in crisis in my view. It’s masters need to have honest expectations about what public relations can accomplish when the real problems are operational failures, bad behavior, criminal activity or worse.

What do you think? Can crisis PR solve everything from oil spills to product recalls by itself? Would enjoy reading your thoughts.

Lots more Crisis Management resources in the PR Coach PR Library including crisis planning, crisis communications tips, online crisis management and more.

Now, here are today’s Friday PR Picks – a useful list of the best PR and social media picks from the past few weeks.

Friday PR Picks

Public Relations
BP To Plug Mel Gibson Next [Huffington Post]
Can BP Ever Rebuild Its Reputation? [TIME]
Google Drops PR Wire for Earnings, But Only Pac-Man Irks Investors [IR Web Reporter]
In a World of Online News, Burnout Starts Younger [The New York Times]
T-Shirt Company Helps Public Give BP the What-For []
The Crisis in Crisis PR: Why the Dark Art is in Meltdown [The Big Money]
The Future of Public Relations: Seizing the Opportunity [Fresh Ideas]
What is the Real Value of a LinkedIn Profile to a Recruiter in the PR Industry? []
Why Journalists Make Mistakes & What We Can Do About Them [Poynter Online]

Social Media & PR
20 Fantastic Content Ideas For Your Online Community [FeverBee]
30 Social Media Business Case Studies [Penn Olson]
38 Fresh Content Communicators By Quality Of Content [Copywrite, Ink]
Tardy Earnings Tweeting Reflects Badly on IR Professionals [IR Web Report]
Top 10 Tips for Creative Blog Writing [Writing on the Web]
What to Do When Your Online Reputation Has Been Compromised [PR Fuel]

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