'No comment' won't cut it, finds survey

NEW YORK: Corporations under scrutiny will fare better in the public's eyes if they openly discuss the issue, finds a new survey.

NEW YORK: Corporations under scrutiny will fare better in the public's eyes if they openly discuss the issue, finds a new survey.

A Hill & Knowlton/Opinion Research Corporation litigation study revealsthat 62% of those surveyed believe a company is covering up transgressions if its spokesperson replies "no comment to related inquiries. "This survey points out the glaring void between saying little and exposing yourself to the perception of liability, and articulating a clear and linear story and protecting your corporate image, said Harlan Loeb, director of H&K's litigation support operation. But public opinion is clearly stacked against companies under investigation, regardless of their communications strategy. Forty percent of respondents said if a company is officially charged with wrongdoing, it is probably guilty, while 45% said that if a government investigation is launched, the company probably engaged in illegal acts. If a large company is accused of a misdeed in a lawsuit, 51% of those responding said that they would be less likely to buy that company's products. The media is a major influence on perceptions, as 82% of respondents cited it as their primary source of information about corporate malfeasance. Only 2% said company sources, such as spokespeople, were their primary information sources. Spokespeople were deemed a credible source of information about these issues by only 4% of those surveyed. Loeb said that the general public, while generally distrustful of government, still often defaults on the side of its infallibility in these cases. "We're starting to see if companies will be more vocal given the fact that this perception of government infallibility can be breached a bit," Loeb said. Loeb said this data reflects the need for corporations to bring PR and legal teams closer together earlier in the evolution of legal and regulatory affairs, in order forge a strategy that includes communications. The telephone survey polled 1,025 US adults from June 14-15.

Gauging public opinion
  • Do you believe that a public company involved in a high-stakes, publicized legal matter is obligated to provide a full, clear, and detailed explanation of its behavior and position to the public? 88% yes 10% no 2% don't know
  • If a company involved in litigation publicly provides a clear, timely, and detailed explanation of its behavior and position, would you likely be open-minded about that company's guilt or innocence until the legal proceedings are concluded? 81% yes 14% no 5% don't know
  • Which of the following do you consider to be the most credible source for evaluating information about alleged corporate misdeeds? 34% media 15% govt. and regulatory officials 14% legal pros 12% academics 6% internet 4% company spokespeople 4% activist groups SOURCE: Hill & Knowlton/Opinion Research Corporation survey.
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