Would you risk your firm's reputation by telling News Corp.'s side of the story?
The digitally savvy PR firm, Edelman, has agreed to represent News Corp., which is in crisis over big revelations from the UK that it hacked phones, paid off the cops, lied to regulators, lied to itself, and showed no interest in coming clean on the story for five years. This seemed to me a risky decision on Edelman's part. But maybe I don't understand the PR biz. Watch as I try to figure it out.
July 14, 2011: The morning begins with this bit of news...
On Tuesday, Murdoch's UK subsidiary, News International, had said: "We have been made aware of the request from the CMS select committee to interview senior executives and will cooperate." So this was a shift.
I particularly enjoyed James Murdoch's reply. Can't make it next week. But what luck, Parliament! I could squeeze you in on August 10th... does that work for you guys?
Then this comes in....
One of the first reactions, from technology journalist Ed Bott, fits right into what I was thinking.
Followed by this from Tim Carmody, who writes (well) about technology and culture....
Tim and I then have a conversation about how Edelman decided to take on the News Corp. assignment and the risks therein.
The questions that interest me are: How does Edelman decide if the risks to its reputation are manageable? Here it is, representing a company with demonstrable difficulties in coming to terms with unconscionable things it has done and speaking truthfully in public about its behavior. I can understand Edelman thinking, "We can help you manage this crisis. We can help you tell your side of the story." They're pros. They're good at this. I get all that.
But how could Edelman have any confidence that News Corp would level with Edelman? As far as I could tell, there was nothing in the history of the phone hacking scandal up to now to suggest that the Murdoch forces were capable of that.
Then we have our first communique from a public relations professional, Ann Marie van den Hurk...
Good point! But other than Ann Marie, I hear nothing from the PR pros. Several hundred of them follow me on Twitter, but over the years I have noticed that while they preach the virtues of "engagement" most are reluctant to comment on any controversy that involves their profession.
But maybe if we shine a light on this fact we can draw them out a bit. Let's give it a shot....
We have a winner! Peter Axtman is a PR guy...
Yes, Peter. But I didn't say anything about "put a shiny face on."
I asked: how does Edelman decide that it's worth the risk (to its own reputation) in working for News Corp. when the company has demonstrable difficulty in telling the truth about what it did to itself, let alone some paid advisor?
Example: Rupert Murdoch just said to the Wall Street Journal that News Corp. had handled the phone hacking mess "extremely well in every way possible," making just "minor mistakes." Then he threw under the bus a law firm his company had hired. This firm had made a "major mistake" by underestimating the size of the problem, he said.
Quick review. News Corp: excellent performance all around! Law firm: terrible, terrible mistakes. Did Edelman advise on that statement?
Remember what Ed Bott predicted: "Edelman will tarnish its own brand."
We hear from another PR pro: Bennett Kleinberg. According to his Twitter profile, a "mild-mannered Manhattan PR Superhero."
Okay, Bennett. I'm a silly, silly person. But my question was: if your job is to make sure that News Corp.'s side of the story is being heard, don't you have to know what the (real) story is first?
We hear from Shel Holtz, a PR guy with digital smarts...
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