News that the husband of Brunswick Group partner Nina Devlin had traded on information obtained without his wife's knowledge has been quite distressing for the global IR and financial communications firm. Considering that financial communications agencies like Brunswick avoid the spotlight more than probably any other specialty PR shop, the media scrutiny has no doubt been an unwelcome distraction. Dow Chemical halted its work with the firm, and Devlin, a well-respected member of the team, has been suspended.
While Devlin and the firm have not been charged, an agency knows better than any other organization how the aftermath of public embarrassment can damage an organization's credibility. Yet, executives at competitor agencies have told PRWeek and other journalists that they don't expect this incident to cause mass deflation in Brunswick's clients' trust. Malfeasance occurs in every industry, and the financial communicators queried by journalists covering this case have been wise to protect the industry by not piling on a competitor who is temporarily down.
There are likely a few things that Brunswick and Devlin could have done better, and there are likely things that were out of their control. But the agency has a good chance to mitigate this situation provided it highlights a few things. First, the person responsible for the willful breach of trust – and possibly the law – was not an agency employee. Secondly, as competitors said, this niche industry is driven by strong personal relationships, a philosophy that Brunswick is likely reminding clients of at this very time.
Trust is hard to qualify and quantify, but it is demonstrated whenever a company escapes a crisis unscathed. Brunswick Group will get through this, as long as it built that trust with clients, just as it likely advised its clients to build trust with the media and stakeholders.