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.