Once a story is embraced, it’s hard to shake. Even if evidence proves otherwise.
Take the outbreak of measles that began at Disneyland and swept across the U.S. Why did the once-eradicated disease return, and why did it spread so quickly and virulently?
For a long time, a tiny segment of society opposed immunization. They believed that it was a plot by Big Pharma to protect profits and that Big Government was in cahoots.
A report in a British medical journal in 1998 fed conspiracy theories by suggesting a link between immunization and autism. Never mind the report was discredited as a fraud and doctors pleaded to immunize children. The percentage of parents opting out increased, creating today’s problem.
They’d already made up their minds.
Similar dynamics are at work when you’re accused of alleged fraud, or sexual misconduct, or anything else. The public often doesn’t even notice the “alleged,” or quickly forgets it. Later found not guilty? Irrelevant.
The accusation is what’s remembered. It’s also what’s found most frequently when someone looks online, because allegations make news and acquittals don’t.
This is the world inhabited by Crisis PR & Reputation Management:
- Sorting out facts. (Only knowing half-truths is a quick way to harm your client and embarrass yourself.)
- Suppressing where possible. (The greatest successes are stories that never appear.)
- Softening when you must. (If a situation is already public, make the best of it.)
The first two are obvious. Let’s briefly explore the third. How do you soften a bad situation?
Guilty? A heart-felt mea culpa may help, depending on how much goodwill you have in the bank and how inclined the public is to pounce. But it’s become overused with so many politicians, executives and celebrities caught in compromising situations. It’s lost much of its effectiveness.
Innocent? Say so. Attack your accusers. Just be certain there’s no validity to the claims. Never be caught denying what’s true.
Regardless of guilt or innocence: Shift the spotlight. Change the conversation and the tone.
Whatever you do, stay ahead of the story. That way you guide where it goes.
“Because Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset”
Gillott Communications is a Strategic PR firm. We’re Fixers. Crisis & Reputation Management. Litigation. Media Relations. Crisis Prep. More than half a century of expertise working with clients to resolve issues both in and outside the media’s glare — in their professional and personal lives.
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For a deeper glimpse into our world, see our book on Amazon, “A Lawyer’s Guide to Crisis PR: Protecting Your Clients In & From the Media.”
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