No second chances on offer as PR pros weigh up rebuttal strategies

Go long? Or short? PRWeek Global editorial director Steve Barrett writes that there's a time and a place for both strategies.

To rebut or not to rebut is increasingly the question for PR pros. Brands and businesses are under more scrutiny than ever in a highly charged world where facts and counter-facts, opinions and propaganda fly around media at lightning-fast pace.

There are numerous ways of dealing with critical media reports or social media firestorms, ranging from dignified silence to long-form point-by-point rebuttals, the efficacy of which are debated in our Gloves Off section.

Starbucks took the high ground when its special holiday cups were criticized for not being "Christmasy enough," a topic Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump felt worth commenting on during a rally in Illinois. The coffee chain sensibly stayed relatively silent beyond noting it had a number of Christmas-themed products in its stores.

Amazon’s Jay Carney took the opposite tack and went on the offensive with a lengthy blog post on Medium, which has become a platform of choice for rebuttals. The former White House press secretary took on a negative investigation by The New York Times point by point, attempting to prove its flimsiness.

Problem was the report came out two months earlier and Carney’s blog reawakened a debate that had already died down in public consciousness. It smacked of a tactic from Carney’s days in politics, where a wartime approach to comms is pretty much constant.

The short answer? There’s a time and a place for both strategies. The conundrum for the busy PR pro is that they are the ones who must decide quickly and effectively which route to take – and there is rarely a second chance to get it right.

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