Recent news has got me thinking about damage control, and I’ve been wondering why it is that when it comes to PR spin and crisis management, history truly does repeat itself over and over and over. If a company is aware of potential safety problems with the vehicles they make then the public needs to be informed. If the personal information of roughly 77 million people who are part a media company’s network gets hacked and is compromised there is not only a civic duty to announce the security breach, but also a moral obligation to do everything possible to mitigate the damage.
I speak of course of the massive Toyota recall and the recent attack on Sony, with the gaffe by Toyota being high on the list of the most poorly handled and biggest PR blunders ever. But here’s the fascinating thing. Despite the massive backlash and media whipping, people still believe Toyota makes quality cars and sales haven’t really suffered. And although people are understandably upset right now, the aftermath of the Sony security breach remains to be seen. My guess is that million of users aren’t going to cease and desist from online gaming because of what happened, even though credit card information was stolen from millions of account holders and Sony was slow to admit the depth of the incident.
It really amazes me that companies continue to put themselves in these positions, and then use the lackadaisical approach on taking action. But the truth is that large companies can practically get away with ignoring or dismissing potential problems like these. Then when a media outlet or blog finally breaks a story the company issues an apology, pays out millions or billions in recall costs or legal fees, and maybe even spends a few million more on a slick ad campaign to reassure consumers they are committed to safety and security. In the end, it’s merely a bump in the road.
Of course smaller companies can’t afford to let things reel out of control before they are forced into a reactive PR effort, and the wake of scandalous news could even be enough to sink a small to midsized ecommerce ship. Honestly, if you weren’t Amazon could you get away defending an author whose book you sell is a how-to guide for pedophiles? Or if you’re not Apple can you stave off accusations that your electronic device has been geo-tracking the exact locations of customers up to 100 times a day? Not likely.
The reality for any small to mid sized enterprise ecommerce businesses is that understanding and reacting to potential threats on credibility requires quick action in order to avoid a PR nightmare. In fact, it may not be a bad idea to think about executing a strategy that includes framing a campaign around possible troubles, thinking about the pitfalls of an unfriendly media blitz, and then beating the press to the punch by making a response before the news ever becomes news.
Ignoring or dismissing potential problems will not make them go away, and when information finally does make it to the public eye, the knowledge that you had been avoiding the problem all along will not only infuriate people, it’s just bad business. But when you have the brand loyalty and deep pockets that these big companies do, maybe ignorance is bliss. And when that’s the case it seems you might be able to get away with just about anything.
Jared Matkin is a staff writer for HotWax Media with a background in PR, Branding and Marketing. He’s also a light-hearted and an opinionated character who will join other HotWax Media employees and advisers in periodically posting his thoughts on topics ranging from enterprise eCommerce to business and technology.