Should a crisis PR consultant accept every client?

All consultants, whatever the industry, live or die by their client base.  Law firms want clients.  CPA firms want clients, Architectural firms want clients.  And PR firms want clients.  Without clients, there is not much for a consultant to do all day.  Plus, there is no way to pay the bills.

But what happens when a client wants to hire a PR firm and the PR firm has a moral or ethical objection to what the client stands for, or what the client is alleged to have done?  Does the PR firm have some sort of obligation to represent all clients, like everybody is entitled to legal defense?  Or should a PR consultant simply walk away?

I have been faced with this dilemma more than once.  I once was asked by an attorney to create a PR plan for someone accused of murder.  I was contacted by someone from a country that had human riots violation accusations.  And a few more.  Most of these cases have one thing in common.  The money is great.  The more trouble people are in, the less they care how much it costs to repair their reputation.

Just recently, the LA Times did a story about Bill Cosby and whether it is too late to resurrect his image.  They interviewed two PR crisis consultants who offered their views as to the advice they would offer Bill Cosby to try to win back his image and reputation.

My perspective on taking clients with whom I disagree or with whom I have an ethical or moral disagreement with is to walk away.  In the cases I cited above, I politely declined taking the business.  Aside from the fact that I could not in good conscious represent people who did or stood for values I disagreed with, I know there is no way I can represent someone if I dislike them, what they are accused of doing or have an ethical or moral problem with them.

If the LA Times contacted me for my views on Bill Cosby’s image, I would not have offered advice on how he can rebuild his image or whether it is possible.  I believe I would have said the only way for him re-build his image is to turn back and clock and not do what he has been accused of doing.

The best crisis PR is to do the right thing from the start, and if that is not possible, then admit what you did and ask for forgiveness.  Trying to spin a story, stonewall, hide behind lawyers or deny facts is not a strategy that works.  And it is a wrong strategy.  People makes mistakes and the pubic can forgive people if they come clean and admit they were wrong — if indeed they were.  If what is floating around social media is incorrect, then the facts need to be known.  But if it is clear that there is no denying the facts, then the best crisis PR is to admit what you did, ask for forgiveness, and hope that people understand that human beings make mistakes.  To do anything else or less is not only bad PR, it is pure and simply wrong.


Old words with new meanings that we can do without

We PR professionals are in the communication business. Our job is to structure the messages of those we represent and communicate them in the clearest, most understandable words possible.

But every now again, new word meanings creep into our daily lexicon. It’s hard to tell who comes up with these alternate ways of saying the same thing, but some – many – catch on. Before you know it, we all are using the same new-styled wording to convey the same thoughts when the words we have been using for decades have worked just fine.

Perhaps it’s nothing more than looking and sounding cool; like you just bought the latest model sports car so you must know something. But having practiced PR for several decades, successfully, I do my best to avoid the newest and latest lingo because I don’t think it adds to my credibility, and frankly, I think it makes me sound silly.

Here are a few examples: Feel free to add to the list:

Space – No longer do people work in a business or industry, they occupy a certain space. I had a conversation with a nice young person recently who was trying to sell me a service. Every other word from his mouth was the “space” my company occupies. The only space I occupy is my office space and I pay rent for that. That’s the only space that makes sense to me.

Reach Out – There was a time when people would call or contact one another. Today, everybody “reaches out.” I wanted to reach out to you about any openings you may have in your company. You mean you are calling me about a job?” If that person was really current, s/he would have said “I wanted to reach out to you about any space I could fill in your firm.” But I guess there are only so many new-fangled clichés a recent graduate can muster in one sentence.

Different Direction – This has actually been around for a while, and won’t go away. Years ago, as the story goes, Johnny Carson decided to fire one of his writers. He called him into his office and said something like, “I just want you to know we’re taking the show in a different direction.” That was Johnny’s way of firing him. Later, the writer said in an interview that he never knew what different direction the show took, as it seemed the same to him until Johnny retired.

Circle Back — “I’ll tell you a bit about my company, you tell me a bit about your company, and then we’ll circle back to how you can help us.” You mean: After we get the preliminaries out of the way, we’ll get to the point of the meeting? Can we do this while remaining in our chairs or do we have to get up and walk in a circle?

Best – Prior to email overtaking our daily communications, people wrote letters. Yes, with actual paper that had to be folded and put in an envelope and mailed, or in later years, faxed. For as many years as I can remember, letters ended with something like Very Truly Yours, or the ubiquitous Sincerely. Then, when email arrived, people wanted to sound more friendly and started using All the Best. And now, All the Best has morphed to simply Best.

Best what?

It was nice hearing from you, Best, Gary.

You mean All the Best? You mean I Wish You the Best? You mean I Am the Best? Perhaps You are the Best? I never know what best you’re talking about. Please explain.

Hey – I saved my favorite for last. I can’t tell you how many emails I get, usually from people soliciting business or more likely people sending resumes, that begin with Hey! If I am not worth a Hello, then why bother? Colleges should offer a course that teaches would-be PR pros the difference between writing a business email and writing a text to a buddy. If you are asking me, or anyone for a job, don’y start with Hey!! We’re not drinking buddies, at least not yet. And for heaven’s sake, drop the exclamation points unless you are writing for a comic strip.

So hey, now that I have reached out to you, I want to circle back and take this in a different direction because of the space that I occupy. Thanks for listening.