World Vision

World Vision: A PR Blunder

World Vision, a popular Christian charity organization, has announced today that it will reverse its decision to hire individuals who are in same sex unions. The decision comes barely two-days after the organization received a myriad of complaints according to the Associated Press.  Despite its best intentions World Vision created a communication crisis.

In examining the response to the complaints, it appears as though the organization employed a vocal commiseration strategy. This strategy included  releasing an apology letter from the World Vision U.S. board of directors. The letter addressed that the board regretted its decision, acknowledged it made a mistake, and asked for forgiveness.

This strategy does have its advantages, admitting regret and issuing an apology can help temper “public hostility”.  In a crisis management situation, the goal of any response is to repair the organization’s image and reputation.

However, simply issuing an apology does not automatically repair the damage. It is often not possible to completely repair an organization’s image with all its publics or stakeholders. World Vision will have to identify all the relevant publics and decide which publics are the most important.

Additionally, World Vision will have to decide if they will pursue any corrective action. This action might be implementing policy that will prevent this situation from occurring in the future. Corrective action reinforces the organizations commitment to its values and mission.

It remains unclear as to why an organization with such a large evangelical public would establish such a controversial policy. This calls into question the organization’s familiarity with its publics. Public relations is built around establishing and maintaining positive relations. Perhaps World Vision will remember this fundamental principle in the future.


Google Apple

Google and Apple: The No Comment Defense

It is no secret that Google and Apple have historically established unethically sound agreements not to poach each other’s employees. Back in 2010 theses agreements even garnered attention from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The incident, however appears to be more extensive. Pando’s Mark Ames has released a new batch of emails from a number of high-ranking Google and Apple administrators. The emails suggest that a number companies (including Google, Apple, Intel, Dell, Microsoft, and Oracle) were attempting to fix employment in the technology industry.

There is little doubt that this story will gain significant media attention in the weeks to follow. However, Pando states that a number of companies highlighted in the article (AMD, AOL, Cingular/AT&T, Dell, Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc.) either declined to comment on the story or have not responded to inquires.

This lack of response offers an unfortunate opportunity to discuss the negative impact of offering “no comment” in a crisis situation.

“No Comment”

Undoubtedly this is a major crisis communication situation. I am sure that all the organizations involved are evaluating the most effective response, but the story explicitly identified those organizations that did and did not comment. By simply identifying these organizations the story is indirectly stating which organizations are more open to the media and the public.

Declining to comment or stating “no comment” is rarely a good strategy in a crisis situation. However, it is commonly the result of diverging perspectives between legal council and public relations. Public relation practitioners in an advisory role often recommend early and open responses to a crisis situation.

If an organization does undertake the “no comment” defense, it is frequently perceived as hiding something. It damages an organization’s reputation and alienates both the media and the public.

Strategic Silence

On the other hand, an organization can decide to undertake “strategic silence”. Engaging in strategic silence can often decrease the life span of a crisis and/or provide the organization with extra time to construct an appropriate response.

A strategic silence relies heavily on the assumption that the media and stakeholders perceive the silence as positive. If facts are unknown or the safety of individuals is at risk the public may be more willing to accept the silence. For example, a number of organizations are adopting the strategic silence strategy with the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 crisis.

The organization will also have to rely on its social capital and reputation to orchestra this strategy. A good public image, positive reputation and excellent media relations will greatly asset an organization in instigating a strategic silence strategy.

Finally, a strategic silence does not mean no communication (i.e., no comment). Instead the organization needs to issue a public statement as to why it will address the issue publicly in the future.

Things to Come

It will be interesting to see how this situation unfolds in the weeks to come. The companies who initially issued a “no comment” defense may quickly adopt the strategic silence strategy and issue a follow-up response.


Paint Brushes

PR: Not Just Name

Wikipedia has just publicly named a Texas-based “public relations” firm, Wiki-PR, for whitewashing a number of entries on their webpage. Specifically, Wikipedia accused the organization for “sock puppetry” or creating false user identifies to “praise, defend, or support a person or organization.” (Wikipedia). This story is receiving significant attention from several media outlets (i.e., Verge, Los Angles Times, Wikipedia), but some of the news coverage is framing the company as a public relations firm, not a Wikipedia consulting firm.

This story raises an excellent question, what should a company look for in a public relations or social media consulting firm?

PR Defined

The best place to start is to review a commonly accepted definition of public relations. PR is not simply the distribution of a news release or the creation of a social media pages; instead it is a “Strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” (PRSA). In the Wiki-PR case, Wikipedia is a public that can be both influenced by outside sources (i.e., your company) and influence your stakeholders (i.e., potential customers). Engaging in “sock puppetry” does not build a mutually beneficial relationship between your company and Wikipedia, the firm representing you, and other publics.

A public relations firm should have an “about us” page or other relevant information that demonstrates they understand the role of public relations in creating and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships. For example, Edelman, one of the top public relations firms in the world, has an extensive “about us” page that presents its values and understanding of public relations. When searching for a PR consulting firm, make sure that you can review the firm’s values and approach to public relations.

PR Ethics

A public relations firm becomes an ethical advocate for a company or organization. In turn, ethical practices are critical in fairly representing your company to the public. A PR firm should have a statement or clear description of ethical values. PR practitioners are often members of the Public Relation Society of America (PRSA). The PRSA is the largest public relations organization in the world and places significant emphasis on educating its members about ethical standards. Over the years, PRSA has established a Code of Ethics that helps practitioners and firms navigate ethical dilemmas. Compare a firm’s values to the PRSA Code of Ethics. This comparison should give you a good idea of whether a firm places enough emphasis on ethics.

Another sign of a reputable PR firm are employees who hold Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credentials. APR is an industry recognized standard established by the PRSA in 1964 and evaluates a practitioner’s understanding of a number of important aspects of public relations, including ethical practices. A quick Google search or inquiry to a firm can confirm if an individual holds an APR.

Just a Name

Would you judge a book by its cover? When looking for public relations firm you must be very selective. You are not simply selecting someone to write a media release, but someone who will be publically advocating for your company. A little bit of research goes a long way to preventing a crisis situation, (think Wiki-PR and Wikipedia). Go beyond the aesthetics of a website and review a firm’s concept of public relations and ethical values. A great PR firm will be more than willing to share with you their strategies and tactics for achieving your campaign goals

Belfast Press Kit

The Belfast Press Kit Disaster: A Cautionary Tale

Film critics were both shocked and disgusted after receiving press kits for the upcoming movie, A Belfast Story. The story, reported by the Daily Mail, noted that the press kits contained questionable items such as balaclavas, duck tape, nails, and sensational news clippings.

Press Kits

Used properly press kits (PKs) are a great way to break through the media clutter. They essentially assist the media in understanding a story. Typically, PKs consist of press releases, biographies, pictures, and reviews. More creative PKs often feature branded “swag” to help peak the media’s interest.

Michael Levine author of Guerrilla P.R. 2.0 recommends that excellent press kits embrace two key elements: (1) tell a good story and (2) incorporate some form of originality. In examining the Belfast Story’s press kit, how did the creator’s miss the mark?

Know Your Public

Instead of creating interest in the film, the press kit did not take into consideration the history of Belfast. Did the press kit tell a story? Yes. Was it original? Perhaps. However, the message of the press kit was ambiguous and the key publics interpreted the contents as offensive.

In compiling any press kit you must know you publics and your story must be crystal clear. Remember that press kits help clarify your story, not cause confusion or increase ambiguity. The elements of the press kit should be carefully selected and have no negative connotations. In considering the Belfast Movie’s press kit two elements, the balaclava and nails are often associated with crime and terrorism. Criminals often use masks or balaclava’s to hide their identity. Nails, while innocent by themselves undertake new meaning when combined with the other elements of the press kit.

PR professionals must always consider Audience Theory. In essence the audience (i.e., publics) ultimately impose meaning on the media. The creators of A Belfast Story had a very specific and positive story contained within the press kit; however, the publics and movie critics had their own interpretation of the story.

The Bin Laden Blunder: Handling Sensitive Information

Reports have surfaced regarding activity that was happening on the night of the raid on Bin Laden’s compound. Specifically, in a conversation at the UCLA Luskin School of Affairs, Reggie Love, Obama’s former personal aide was asked to describe events that occurred that night. According to a story by Vulture, President Obama spent a portion of that day playing cards.

“Most people were like down in the Situation Room and [President Obama] was like, ‘I’m not going to be down there, I can’t watch this entire thing,’ We must have played 15 games…” said Love at a public event.

These statements present a crisis communication situation for the White House, as it negatively portrayed the President as being detached and uninvolved about real-time events that were happening on the night of the raid. Although his statements do not contribute additional information concerning the actual timeline of events, we do know that the President was present in the Situation Room for the now famous photo.

In contrast, The Washington Post reported that Michael Leiter, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, present in the Situation Room during the raid, told NBC news that

“He was in the room before they landed in and also in the (situation) room until after the (helicopters) were out of (Pakistan’s) airspace,” Leiter said. “He largely stuck around after that, although there were times he stepped out, but not for especially extended periods – except to work the speech.”

Although this report offers more details about the event, it also appears to conflict with Love’s account of the situation. NBC also reports that the White House declined to comment on the reports.

New Scrutiny

These new reports concerning the administration’s involvement in the event, have prompted other media figures to reevaluate publicity photos and accounts of the event, including the Situation Room photo. Individuals are examining the composition of the photo, including the president’s position at the table and body language.

The media including NBC has repudiated the Obamam Aide for revealing the preseident’s behavior during the raid. Even Al Roker, NBC weatherman, joked “Remmember that non-disclosure thing you signed.”

Unintentional Leaking

The above story presents a perfect opportunity to consider an important area of public relations, handling confidential and leaked information.

The subject of nondisclosure agreements, legally binding contracts which a person promises to keep specific information as a trade secret and not to disclose it without permission, is a valid area of concern for PR professionals. Often PR firms are asked to sign contracts when working with clients. In addition, PR professionals can and should be involved in creating communication policies covering employee nondisclosure of confidential or private information. Reviewing and establishing communication policies regarding sensitive information can prevent potential PR disasters.

Purposeful Leaking

In contrast, it should be mentioned that a strategic press leak of information is a useful tactic available to PR practitioners. Leaking information can be a proactive strategy if your client will be facing bad news and you can locate a sympathetic media outlet. The negative event will eventually reach the media, so a preemptive release of information can limit damage, and “soften” initial reactions to the news.

Leaks will Happen

Information leaks will occur even in the most secure organizations, just ask Edward Snowden.  What should matter to practitioners is prevention and reaction. Planning ahead and having communication policy in place can potentially decrease the number of leaks. If a leak occurs, and it will given enough time, having a strategic plan will ensure that all internal publics will be on the same page and initiate the proper response.

Did the White House handle this crisis situation adequately? If the leak was authorized, it may part of a long-term strategy regarding the Bin Laden raid.  If the leak was unauthorized, declining to comment is essentially the same as “no comment”. As Elaine Nahanson, APR and Fellow PRSA states, “As a reporter, ‘no comment’ means ‘go away,’ ‘I don’t have to talk to you,’ It’s none of your (or your readers or the publics) business.’ From a public relations view, it means “I’m guilty,’ ‘I have something to hide from you (or your readers or my clients and customers).”

In any event PR professionals should always apply the PRSA’s Code of Ethics, strive for transparency and hold truth in high regard.


Razor Sharp Burgers: A Lesson in Crisis Communication

Recently a Burger King customer discovered a razor blade between her cheeseburger in Willits, California. An investigation into the incident revealed that it was not a prank, but the result of a questionable practice by a Burger King franchisee that allowed loose razor blades to be used for cleaning.

Luckily no one was hurt in this incident. Although the crisis happened 10 days ago, the story has went viral with over 605 tweets and 126,281 impressions. Has Burger King employed an effective crisis communication strategy? Lets examine two elements of effective crisis management, communication and organizational stance.


No matter the crisis, an organization must implement a communication plan to ensure that the public and the media are well informed. In Burger King’s case they have only released a minimal amount of information about the incident. In a phone interview with USA Today a company spokesperson, Miguel Piedra said “Food safety is a top priority for Burger King restaurants globally…Burger King Corp’s strict food handling procedures clearly outline that razor blades are not permitted in or near food preparation areas at any time.”

Although this statement clearly highlights the company’s concern over the incident, they have not issued any formal press releases on their Corporate Newsroom webpage and have not responded to the incident on Facebook or Twitter.

This delay in communication is troubling in the age of social media. News travels fast and companies must quickly unitize all their communication channels to inform the public.

Organizational Stance

When faced with a crisis, a company must determine its stance or position for dealing with the conflict. In most cases a company will choose either an accommodative or defensive stance. Burger King appears to have adopted a more accommodative strategy, acknowledging the crisis and taking corrective action (i.e., reinforcing food preparation procedures, retraining staff, removing razor blades from the franchisee).

However, the company has made it clear that it was an isolated incident that happened at a franchisee, not a company owned or operated store. Here the company is rationalizing the incident, which can be perceived as a defensive stance.

Conflict Resolution

Has Burger King handled the incident effectively? Regrettably there are no clear-cut solutions to handling a crisis situation.

At first glance, it appears that Burger King was very restrictive in informing the public about the incident. An early and immediate dialogue with the public might have curtailed the story from going viral.

In addition, the lack of social media response calls into question the company’s social media strategies. With over 160,000 Twitter followers and 6 million Facebook “likes” it’s puzzling as to why the company has not issued a response to this issue using social media channels.