Why People Don’t Trust Companies (or at least don’t trust their publicity)

I was at an all-day conference on online PR.  I’m not a real PR person, but I drive Valhalla’s PR.  I also know what I don’t know, so I hoped I’d get something out of an all-day klatsch on measuring PR effectiveness online.

Good information, for the most part.

But the bloggable thing was the exercise we did in the early afternoon: each table in the big room had to handle a synthetic online publicity crisis.  A video was uploaded to YouTube showing child laborers in our (fictional) coffee plantations in Brazil.  Kids saying, “Oh, yeah, I don’t get injured most of the time.”  Stuff like that.

We had five minutes to react, and then found out that our own people said the facts of the video were probably authentic.  And then moms began to blog about us online…

I said to our table, “why not just tell the truth as we know it: yes, the footage is genuine; yes, this is a situation we’re going to get on top of; yes, we are acknowledging it.”

Everyone at the table was horrified: we couldn’t do that, it would “escalate” the crisis.

And no one else in the big room of 300 brought it up.  An acknowledgement wasn’t even on the table.

My wife tells me I’m nerdishly honest, and there’s something to that.  If someone had laid out a plan to acknowledge the damaging publicity in some face-saving way, it would have been an improvement on what I was suggesting.

But everyone’s response was to “keep it from spreading”, just the thing we had been told in a panel an hour before was the way _not_ to handle a crisis.

Oh, well.  I guess there are nuances to PR we amateurs don’t get.

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2 comments on “Why People Don’t Trust Companies (or at least don’t trust their publicity)

  1. Anonymous says:

    It’s almost a parody of the PR profession — OMG, tell the TRUTH?? Anything but that!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Like how Dan is incredibly honest. I believe that how he would handle is the right thing to do. Imagine how you feel when you are getting ready to board a plane and they tell you that there will be a one hour delay. Then, another hour goes by and another. You are never told the real reason why there was the delay in the first place. If you had known in the beginning, you could have rebooked the flight so you could have made it to the speech you were supposed to give.

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