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Lawyers versus PR people…. The eternal struggle

Something bad happens, and you go around the table asking about next moves.

PR explains that if you are going to take a bath in a crisis, then you need to come clean. PR says that it is better to be in the driver’s seat of a bad story then be a passenger. That you buy good will by being transparent and open handed. And, if there is bad news, it is your ethical responsibility to get it out there, and then get past it.

Then the legal team have their say. No, they tell us, you don’t have to get bad news out there – discussing or admitting blame comes with a big potential price tag in the legal realm. And, they will say, the chance of the bad news coming out is less than 50%, meaning there is no reason to launch a crisis you can avoid. Just be ready, they say, and if the crisis does break, you reply – and if does not, then everything is under control.

So, who is right?

The answer is not as simple you think. I have to think that coming clean is always the right thing. But certainly I have seen organizations that chose to take the path of playing the odds, and winning. Especially in a world of shrinking media – playing it safe, can pay off.

But, at what cost? Having a potential crisis ready to break is exhausting– kind of like a sword of Damocles hanging over your head. And, if you play the averages, and the crisis breaks, then there is lot of explaining about why you did not come forward.

I get the legal argument, bad news is bad news, and social media only helps to spread it quicker. But there is always an issue of trust. In a world where twisting the truth and downright bold face lying has become quotidian, and when tossing passengers off your aircraft with the iPhone rolling only leads to higher stock prices. It seems that people’s minds are either jaded, or they just forget yesterday’s scandals.

It is never as simple as doing the right thing. But in the end, getting bad news out and over is preferable to sitting on it and hoping it will never break. As they say, if a crisis is like breakfast, then be the pig not the hen – and give it your all.

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