Trylon Communications  - Volume I Issue 11

The Ostrich Approach

At the onset of inquiries into Martha Stewart’s possible insider trading, the public response was somewhat evasive. How many times have we seen a crisis mushroom because the company or individual involved failed to take decisive action?

There are at least two rules to remember when handling such accusations. The first is to immediately analyze a crisis situation and begin working to get public opinion on your side.

The second is to tell it all, and tell it fast. Government attorneys claim they have caught Stewart in a lie, and have included that lie as a basis for several indictments against her. They are claiming that although her original actions were bad enough, those transgressions were compounded by her failing to take subsequent responsibility.

Only when it became clear that she was going to be indicted and face criminal charges did Stewart take a more proactive approach, placing a full-page ad in USA Today and creating a Web site dedicated to telling her side of the story, perhaps too late.

A proactive public relations strategy should be employed at the first hint of scandal, so that you can blunt any ongoing rumors and allegations. As a top media industry personality, Stewart could have easily told her story numerous times over several types of media – without needing to pay for advertising, which is a less credible communications medium. Television shows, radio shows, newspapers – just about anyone would have loved to interview her and hear her side. Instead, she dodged when the subject was broached during a TV morning show appearance.

When you’re high-profile and an allegedly innocent victim, you can take the fight to the prosecutors, instead of being placed in a defensive posture that serves no one well. By keeping a low profile and avoiding comment you only reinforce a perception that there may be fire behind the smoke.

One approach to consider would be to say you inadvertently made a mistake, you were not clear on the specifics of the situation, and that you will take responsibility for what happened. What if Stewart had said, “Yes, I heard that there would be problems with ImClone and that it would be a good idea to bail out of my position.”

Maybe a slap on the wrist…a fine that would have been easily paid…or perhaps some probation. A week’s worth – if that – of rough media coverage, then back to business as usual. Instead, she has now lost her position in her company and is facing possible prison time, a felony record, huge legal bills, and a trial that is already being billed as the largest legal spectacle since the O.J. Simpson case.

When it comes to a crisis, consider consulting a public relations expert (who may possibly tell you things you may not wish to hear) rather than getting PR advice from your lawyers.

This access to targeted information will become very important to companies wishing to disseminate their news and information. Instead of issuing mass press releases, businesses will need to determine where their audiences access this type of information and how they can get their news in front of those audiences.