HP slipup proves PR pros belong in the boardroom

If any top-level communicator needed slam-dunk, real-world proof that he or she deserves a seat at the executive table, that person has it- in spades - in HP.

If any top-level communicator needed slam-dunk, real-world proof that he or she deserves a seat at the executive table, that person has it- in spades - in HP.

The consumer electronics manufacturer has famously graced newspaper covers across the country for alleged misdeeds in its investigation of a board member who leaked information about a behind-the-scenes meeting to reporters at CNET. In the process, an investigator hired by HP accessed at least nine reporters' phone records, using an illegal process called pretexting.

Of course, the public is not privy what goes on in plush boardrooms, so judgment will remain reserved until all the facts come out. And it is nearly guaranteed that the facts will be known, given the potential involvement of the authorities and future litigation.

Despite the anger directed at HP, perhaps we can accept that it was merely trying to legally pursue leaks it felt hurt its credibility. Where the communicator would have proved useful was in saying: a) this will get out; b) this will get ugly; and c) talking our way out of this will consume the next six months, leaving new initiatives behind.

Smart communicators approach any backroom dealings fully anticipating that the company's actions will see the light of day, especially now, when whistleblowers enjoy unprecedented protections and the public will choke to death on information before getting sated. Often, sadly, smart businesspeople view PR pros as those who mop up messes rather than explain how to avoid them.

A company that avoids its PR staff until after the fact does so to its own detriment. Even if it is only highlighted in situations of peril, communicators hang their abilities on predicting how incidents will play out in the public. At least, that's what companies are supposedly paying them for, whether they acknowledge it or not.

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