A study from PwC showed a few years ago that scandals and corruption were the most common causes for the forced resignation of CEOs of the largest global companies. Could good PR have saved them?
Maybe – if the PR agency had worked in the right way and the insights gained had been put to good use within the company. Once a scandal has erupted, it is often too late to do much more than try to minimise the damage. Avoiding the scandal entirely would of course have been better.
In our opinion, the most important role of PR is to highlight the risks, well in advance. Unfortunately, only a minority of companies are sufficiently aware of whether there actually are any risks to their reputation. There is often no systematic and regular analysis carried out.
This is probably due to the company simply not having the expertise. Economists are very good at seeing where the financial risks lie for a company. Engineers can see the faults in production processes. Marketing teams can see where a company risks losing ground to competitors. But who pays attention to the external image of the company?
When we join a company, we are almost always met with a significantly more positive image of the company and industry than we had from the outside. This positive internal picture is, in a way, a good thing, as it means that the company is characterised by the fact that many people like what they do and see it as important. It is mostly beneficial, but is a major obstacle when it comes to identifying risks.
Where a PR agency can assist is looking at the company from the outside and describing how it and the industry are perceived. We can then make a list of what the risks are, both in terms of how likely they are and how serious they are. Almost all industries have in-built risks, which can be related to anything from the environment to problems with products. Then there are those risks which are specific to the company.
It is therefore a mapping exercise, which usually results in suggestions on what needs to be changed. However, PR is never about hiding any illegal or unethical activities within the company, past or present.
In fact, it can never be guaranteed that anything is hidden at all. Instead, we want to help to reduce what can and should be questioned in terms of the business operations.
Our skills in media logic and social debate are often key in being able to identify the risks and prioritising them. The end result is actions and messages that can save both the company’s brand and the CEO from future scandal. This means that PR is one of the most important investments that a company makes.