PR Disasters: 1st Lesson Learned (8/28/13)

In Spring 2013 I presented two continuing legal education courses entitled “PR Disasters — Lessons for the Business Lawyer”.  We covered case studies that analyzed the unfortunate mistakes and misguided decisions that resulted in major public relations problems.  In the case study below, people were seriously injured because of flawed decision making.

Lessons Learned #1

The truth shall set you free. The cardinal rule we all learned in Kindergarten (if not before) is the one that seems hardest to follow for some organizations – don’t lie.

Cover-ups, half-truths and failing to disclose material information also come within this category. Covering-up information that otherwise should be shared is the most common transgression, and organizations learn this lesson the hard way—a problem is swept under the rug with the hope it will go away, only to surface later and be far more damaging.

Recent examples of this include Penn State and Tokyo Electric Power Co. Both organizations were aware of problems, and both organizations made the choice to look the other way. In both cases the problems came back with a vengeance, creating an even greater number of victims than if they had addressed the issue in the first instance. Legal exposure, liability and damages are still being determined in the Penn State scandal, and the cost of the nuclear disaster will not fully be known for years to come.

There is an additional challenge to disclosing unfavorable information—striking a balance between “Too much information” and “Too little information”. In an effort to be truthful and transparent, organizations will err on the side of sharing too much information, disclosing additional, irrelevant facts that only result in greater damage to reputation. In deciding what is to be disclosed and when, careful strategic objectives must be considered, as well as risk analyzed.

Next post: 2nd Lesson Learned — “Demanding Silence Rarely Works”