June 25, 2022 — I wince every time I hear a business leader say her or his company has a PR problem. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a plant fire, product recall or class-action lawsuit. It’s as if everything would be OK if it weren’t for pesky journalists asking tough questions or nit-picky customers and other stakeholders demanding accountability.
In many cases, the problem isn’t with the company’s public relations. It’s usually a result of the organization’s shortcomings in safety, quality or ethical conduct. That’s why responsible PR practitioners should conduct due diligence before accepting crisis communications and issue management assignments.
Due diligence is a must
Several years ago, I was contacted by a health care provider that had a checkered record in preventing the spread of Covid infections and illnesses. The CEO insisted that his facility’s difficulties were the result of the flawed way state government reports data. I said I would be happy to help with the provider’s PR strategy, but first I wanted to examine all the publicly available records the same way a journalist would. In addition, I wanted to review the provider’s procedures for compiling the information it submitted to regulators. The CEO never called me back.
History often repeats itself
Another time a business owner contacted me because he said his employees had been accused by officials of falsifying financial records. After two brief calls in less than 12 hours to discuss initial steps, I opened the morning newspaper the next day to learn the business owner had been indicted. According to the indictment, the owner falsified the records.
Bad things can happen to even the best of organizations. Moreover, responsible leaders conduct thorough investigations and aren’t afraid to implement meaningful changes. Organizations that believe the public and its attitudes are the root cause of their problems, however, are doomed to repeat their missteps and face the wrath of journalists, customers and other stakeholders amid problems of their own making.