David Wolf
Jun 16, 2010

Wise PR counsel is as vital to CEOs as an army of lawyers

David Wolf, CEO at Wolf Group Asia, advises CEOs in the region to shell out for intelligent and capable PR counsel as the BP oil spill and Foxconn suicides continues to dominate headlines across the world.

David Wolf
David Wolf

As news of BP's Gulf Coast oil spill and the worker suicides at Foxconn's southern China facility intertwined, many an exasperated tweeter would blurt out something along the lines of "The way (insert company name) is handling this crisis is an embarrassment. I don't know who their PR agency is, but they should be fired."

An understandable sentiment, but anyone who understands how public relations counsel works realises that agency failure is only one possible reason for a company to fumble a crisis. A more common problem, especially in China, is client failure. It can take many forms.

Scenario one: perhaps the company decided they just needed a PR firm to send out press releases, arrange press conferences, and otherwise stay out of the way. Perhaps they hired a PR manager who was capable of little more than handling product launches. In either of these cases, the fault lies at the top of the company. It is the CEO's responsibility to make sure his company can communicate.

Scenario two: Let's say that the company hired a strong PR agency and an outstanding PR manager. But in this case attorneys told corporate leaders that the only thing that mattered was avoiding any action or statement that would look like an admission of responsibility, and to ignore any recommendations from the PR team that might impinge on that. The CEO goes with the lawyers. After all, they are lawyers, right? CEO fail two.

Finally, scenario three: Let's say that the attorneys do not contradict the advice of the wise internal and external PR counsel. But in the end, the CEO decides that he will ignore the advice. He believes he knows how to handle a crisis. Or, maybe he knows someone in the government, and that official is telling him "hey, handle things this way." CEO fail three.

There is an old saying that a man who represents himself in court has a fool for a client. That is equally true for the court of public opinion.

CEOs around China and across Asia should find and pay for intelligent and capable PR counsel. Good PR people don't dictate courtroom tactics, so good attorneys should stay out of PR tactics. Find counsel you can trust, and keep them close. You never know when that well is going to blow.

Got a view?
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This article was originally published in the 3 June 2010 issue of Media.

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