Has Agency Crisis PR Lost Its Way?

Crisis PR is in crisis. Or so says Matthew DeBord, writing in The Big Money.

He believes the 24/7 news-and-comment cycle and social media have permanently altered the landscape to the point where “the new crisis paradigm is spinning hopelessly in the dark.”

Leading with BP’s troubles and the inability of its crisis communications team to work magic, Mr. DeBord writes “the dark art is in meltdown.”

While Mr. DeBord’s article raises some interested points, his statement “The BP oil spill, Apple’s (AAPL) Antennagate, the fall of Goldman Sachs (GS), Toyota’s Great Recall, the sexual travails of Tiger Woods, the trysts of Al Gore, the loose lips of Stanley McChrystal—all these combustions would have been fixed, in the good old days of 2007, with a call to Burston-Marstellar or Sitrick & Co.,” is frankly absurd.

Exxon hardly waltzed through the Valdez oil spill in Alaska, which took place before the Internet was used on a large scale. Or how about Bridgestone’s tire disaster a decade ago? Bridgestone had a top PR firm working on the crisis, but would anybody say it was handled well?

While there’s no doubt that social media have changed the speed at which companies communicate and the way in which they interact with the public, the fundamentals of crisis communications haven’t changed.

I can’t recall ever seeing a crisis “fixed” just by throwing money at PR. There has to be a good-faith effort to fix the problem that caused the crisis in the first place.

If a company is deceptive and tries to hide the truth, no amount of crisis spin is likely to do it much good.

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.

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