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It’s NOT a PR Problem. Think Real Values, Mission and Culture.

What do BP, Tiger Woods, the TSA, Toyota, Apple’s Antenna Angst and HP’s CEO scandal have in common?

Most are included in the inaugural “Top 10 PR Disasters of 2010” poll, conducted late November by Cantor Integrated Marketing Staffing in partnership with CommPRO (we added TSA because of its late surge in media attention). They reported sending an email survey to 25,000 professionals in PR, communications and related disciplines, generating 167 responses, a return of just 0.67 percent. But this anti-popularity poll is worth looking at for similarities. The ranking:

  • BP Oil Spill Response
  • Toyota’s Great Recall
  • Tiger Woods’ Marital Mess
  • Action for Children – Autism Ad Campaign Backlash
  • Apple’s Antennagate
  • HP’s CEO Scandal
  • EasyJet Volcanic Ash Cloud Saga
  • Nestle’s Palm Oil Crisis
  • Johnson & Johnson’s ’10 Recall
  • Al Gore’s Trysts

An interesting exercise, but I would argue that these go beyond having PR disasters. More importantly in each case those swept up in the tornadoes of negative media coverage for their transgressions had deviated from the strong core values and behaviors that made them successful in the first place. They violated consumer trust. As a result, each needs to solve deeper and more important cultural, organizational and other shortcomings before PR can start persuading many different target audiences to take a new look.

When a brand tumbles after a successful rise to stardom and success, there is a disconnect. Psychologists call it cognitive dissonance, where conflicting ideas battle for loyalty in your head (Toyota quality versus Toyota cost cutting to drive profits; the world’s greatest athlete versus the world’s worst philanderer; important need for ensuring air travel safety versus the brutish behavior and public theater the TSA pursues in subjecting everyone to delays and indignity rather than focusing attention on the most viable terrorist candidates).

The fix is to embrace image as a part of corporate strategy, then PR can work to regain reputation and trust. As written about before, this requires consistent communications over time and delivering what scientists and engineers call proof of principle. What do you stand for? Can you consistently demonstrate evidence of these values? The value of reputation has been proven over time in studies by many brilliant authors in the world of reputation management (Charles Fombrun, Leslie Gaines-Ross, Al Ries, etc.). The fix requires not merely whipping up new communications plans in hopes of fluffing and puffing up deflated images. Once the deeper organizational flaws have been solved and a new visions established, PR can work to rebuild reputations for the long term from a solid foundations of facts and deeds – values-based PR at its best.

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