Protocol vs Risk

Some fixes may work "most of the time." But the client wants the one that works this time. Photo courtesy of

Some fixes may work “most of the time.”
But the client wants one to work this time.

Photo courtesy of

Consider this: Ten labor lawyers are presented with a problem and asked what to do. Nine give the same answer, but the 10th replies differently. Whose advice is more trustworthy?

That question was posed to a roomful of lawyers, and the vast majority opted to go with the nine. Only one person — a non-lawyer — raised his hand in favor of the 10th.

Afterward, the one who favored the 10th asked the speaker why no one else was willing to try the different strategy. “You’re not a lawyer,” the speaker explained. “Certain methods are tested and work most of the time. There’s a disincentive to take risks.”

A very different mindset from Crisis & Reputation Management. There are no constants. Every situation is fluid. Facts differ vastly from case to case. Rules of engagement with the other side and the media aren’t static, and they are constantly being fine-tuned.

Standard protocols don’t exist — or work. Only one question matters: Of a universe of options, which will best achieve the client’s goal, whether it’s derailing a story before it sees the light of day or mitigating damage from an issue that’s already made headlines?

Were facts clear-cut in one case, but fuzzy in another? Is your client’s position more defensible, or less? Is the media sophisticated, or not?

The latter point is especially tricky. Does the reporter understand the rules of the game? Will he abide by them? Will he burn you by attributing to you information provided as off-the-record guidance? You must make that assessment within moments, before you head down any path.

Maybe that’s why those who do Crisis & Reputation Management feel a kinship with Gregory House, the irascible and unconventional doctor in the TV series “House.” They’re more concerned with doing what’s necessary to protect their particular client than they are about adhering to protocols that may work “most of the time” — because they may not work this time.

And this time is the only thing that this client cares about.


“Because Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset”

Gillott Communications is a Los Angeles-based public relations firm that specializes in high-stakes Crisis & Reputation Management. If you don’t already subscribe, please sign up for our blog Insights on High-Stakes PR. You can reach Roger Gillott directly at 310-826-8696.


2 thoughts on “Protocol vs Risk

  1. Great observations Roger. People “under the gun” in a crisis in my experience will grasp at the first thing that looks like it might work. Looking at all the possibilities takes discipline.

  2. Hi Roger, this is a great post. Just as you’d want a lawyer or Crisis Communications and PR pro to treat your situation as one of a kind, so too would you want a marketing provider to look at your situation with no bias and no pre-conceived or risk-adverse tactics.

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