- Big company X spends hundreds of thousands to get an independent report published by a reputable institution.
- Takes months, the report is finally published and the company is happy: the facts support its side of the story (e.g. product Y is not nearly as dangerous as some say) and the report is truly independent, so case closed – or so they think.
- What’s the story? Company X publishes “independent report” which proves so and so? No, that’s not interesting enough. The story becomes company X publishes supposedly independent report but pressure group Z says it can’t be trusted as it’s industry sponsored. The report flops in PR terms.
This is another tale that’s been around the block a few times:
- Pressure group Z doesn’t have any budget but understands PR far better than industry behemoth X.
- It makes a mountain out a molehill by taking a nothing story and relating it to a day-to-day human experience e.g. the equivalent of say “paracetamol will kill you” without mentioning that you would have to take 100 tablets or whatever to do so (to be fair, plenty of NGOs and the like publish material that is much less controversial, but you get the gist.)
- Pressure group Z gets loads more press than Company X got for its crumby report.
- Company X responds to the story with a press release a week later rather than responding to it immediately using online crisis communications tactics that have more impact.
What are the lessons for corporate players in all of this? Each of these points could be a blog post in itself (if not something much longer), but in short:
- Re. the last point, clearly, your crisis communications requires an online element.
- Most of all though, don’t get caught up in trying to win hearts and minds through science and fact alone. Nobody cares about science, however spuriously, if their family’s health may be at risk.
- Don’t let business people, academics, engineers or scientists decide on your story. You need communicators on board.
- Don’t just make it about defensive communication and proving that you’re not as bad as they say. So your substance isn’t that harmful (or whatever) but is your organisation really doing good deeds in the long run? If not, it should.
- Treat pressure groups with respect, engage in dialogue, show them that you do good things, and they might even be nice to you. Or at least be less outrageous.
- And I have to say this considering my line of work… Go online and develop a super web presence to engage directly with the public and explain your story to them without intermediaries. Media relations is important, of course, but the press is likely to side with pressure groups more often than not, no matter what you say or do (and if you’re truly nasty, deservedly so!) Why? Because they’re the nice guys and readers like them more than you.