NYT: In Case of Emergency: What Not to Do

The New York Times uses BP as a reason to weigh in on the practice of public relations. A couple of the money quotes:

Eric Dezenhall, a communications strategist in Washington who worked in the White House for President Ronald Reagan, argues that the standard playbook is useless when the facts are sufficiently distasteful. …

Mr. Dezenhall is particularly scornful of the classic imperative to “get out in front of the story,” as if swift disclosure provides inoculation against all ugly realities. When the facts are horrible, he argues, the best P.R. fix may simply be to absorb the pounding and get back to business, while eschewing the sort of foolish communications gimmicks that can make things worse. …

“BP could apologize every day,” says Keith Michael Hearit, a communications professor at Western Michigan University. “They could have a situation where the C.E.O. goes on an environmental pilgrimage and falls on his knees going up a mountain, and it wouldn’t do them any good. Until the oil stopped, there was nothing that could be done to make it better, but there was plenty that could be said to make it worse.”

2 thoughts on “NYT: In Case of Emergency: What Not to Do

  1. Reminds me of when I worked for Mayor Webb and we had a rash of high profile police shootings of innocent citizens. It was terrible situation for the police department(kind of like right now)and the media beast was being fed daily helpings of new police f-ups.

    Police Chief Tom Sanchez called me to his office and said, “Andrew, I’ve been a police officer for 30 years and never have I seen a situation like this. The citizens hate the cops, the cops aren’t too fond of the public and the media just makes it worse! I need some good PR advice!”

    “Hmmm…” I contemplated his request. “Some good PR advice….”

    “I got it!!!” I yelled.

    “What?? What??” Chief Sanchez yelled back.

    “The best PR advice I can give is…”

    “Yeah? Yeah??” He asked.


    It was one of those moments where I knew I’d regret it if for the rest of my life if I didn’t take the opportunity to say those words, although, in retrospect, I should have considered the man was wearing a gun.

    Obviously, he was not too thrilled with my advice, but as I told him, “I’m kinda joking, but kinda serious. Tell your cops to take their fingers off the trigger!”

    Needless to say, Chief Sanchez lasted about another 3 weeks before he stepped down.

    I liked Chief Sanchez, and realized he was in a tough spot, but, seriously, sometimes you just got to quit doing the obvious thing that is causing you the pain and the pain miraculously goes away.

    As the NYT article states, once you are in this kind of crisis Tsunami, there’s nothing much you can do (other than canning your CEO/Manager of Safety) and try and surf, keep your head above water and hope it eventually resides.

    Credibility will be re-built over time.

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