EDITORIAL: Companies that stubbornly fail to admit in-house problems are true PR knuckleheads

Good PR work will not always get a company out of a mess. But it can help expedite healing from the reputational damage, both internally and externally.

Good PR work will not always get a company out of a mess. But it can help expedite healing from the reputational damage, both internally and externally.

Mona Williams, Wal-Mart's communications VP, did some of that foundation building last week when she appeared on NBC's Today to face one of seven plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the company. The plaintiffs allege that Wal-Mart systematically discriminates against women, and a July hearing will determine if it becomes a class-action suit. Williams' authenticity, manifested in her sympathetic response to the woman's recounting of bias she had suffered, defused the David versus Goliath rhetoric that was building as Matt Lauer turned his attention from one side of the case to the other. The message that Wal-Mart has crafted - that discrimination is not a cultural phenomenon at the company, even while isolated examples are brought to light - was more convincingly communicated in Williams' legalese-free responses. When asked about reports that some managers had held staff meetings in strip clubs or Hooters restaurants, Williams avoided the typical "a full investigation is underway" answer, opting instead to concede that there are a few "knuckleheads" out there doing exactly the wrong thing, and that anyone caught engaging in such activity would be fired immediately. Too often, companies will refuse to publicly admit that any corporation is vulnerable to the "knucklehead" factor. By allowing that random incidents will occur, Williams was all the more credible in saying that such action was not indicative of a cultural problem within the company. It was easy to believe her. Whether or not Wal-Mart is eventually found guilty of wrongdoing, Williams convincingly made the case for giving the company a chance to fix what is wrong. PRWeek proud to sponsor ICCO Summit For the first time, PRWeek is sponsoring the ICCO International Summit, which this year will be held in Berlin on October 16-17. We are particularly pleased to be involved in this summit now, at a time when the world is experiencing intense political and economic pressures. PR pros are often at the forefront of the organizations that are directly impacted by them. This ICCO meeting will be a global gathering of professionals representing both the agency and the corporate perspectives. Harris Diamond, CEO of Weber Shandwick, Lauri Kivinen, SVP of corporate communications at Nokia, and Simon Walker, head of global communications for Reuters, will join a range of other speakers to discuss such topics as the impact of the global political landscape on international brands, the challenge of positioning brands in diverse markets, and structuring PR teams for global success. This is the first time that in-house and agency communicators will be brought together on such a large scale to talk about how the most compelling global issues are directly impacting the work of PR. "This is a precedent-setting meeting," said David Drobis, ICCO president. "We have an opportunity to come together and talk about how brands and relationships are maintained, especially in a world that is in flux."

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