Can PR prevent white collar crime?

This is a guest post from Elissa Freeman.

Should PR pros take white collar crime more seriously when developing crisis communications plans?  Have we been failing our clients by not doing a better job of warning them upfront of the potential reputational hit resulting from knowingly breaking the law?

BP PLC: Politics, Payola and Petroleum (g1a2d0030c1)Ever since I read about the recent Walmart debacle in Gini Dietrich’s Spin Sucks blog, I couldn’t help but think how the role of crisis communications may need to evolve.

The usual formula goes something like this: Company X does wrong. Company X gets a call from a reporter with a major North American daily that is going to blow the lid off the transgression. Company X picks up the phone, calls their PR agency and cries, “Help! We’re all over the New York Times! Now what?”

And of course, we are there at the rescue. Developing plans, key messages, Q’s and A’s….doing our best to clean up and hopefully resurrect a reputation.

But has the time come where we need to talk about serious corporate wrongdoing to our clients/C-suite as part of our regular crisis planning?  Do we need to be more articulate about ‘laying down the law’ so to speak?

We tend to gloss over the really bad stuff.  I’ve even been part of those conversations.  “Well, if (heaven forbid!) somebody dies, or you’re caught bribing someone…well, the crisis plan would kick in and we would follow best practices.”

I think we need to go further.  We likely need to work with legal experts to develop awareness around ‘extreme crises as part of regular crisis planning.  This would be beneficial on a number of fronts:

  • Create a heightened awareness with the client, especially those in the Fortune 50 bracket, of the severe ramifications of white collar crime
  • Involve the client/company’s Board of Directors in these discussions; they are often complicit with decisions that serve as a catalyst for wrongdoing
  • Better prepare in-house counsel and the communications team with in-depth response mechanisms in times of crisis

I may be dreaming in Technicolor to think that PR could actually make a corporate giant think twice before trying to deke out the law.  But I do think its incumbent upon those of us in our profession to at least try.

Elissa Freeman As a died-in-wool Toronto Maple Leafs hockey fan, PR veteran Elissa Freeman jumped at the chance to guest blog for a guy with the last name ‘Esposito’ from Boston.  A 20+ year PR veteran, she was named one of Twitters’ Top 75 Badass Females and Toronto’s Top 150 Social Media Influencers.

Image – watchingfrogsboil

36 Responses to Can PR prevent white collar crime?
  1. jeffespo
    April 30, 2012 | 10:42 am

    @kamichat @mikefixs Thanks for sharing

  2. jeffespo
    April 30, 2012 | 10:52 am

    @jeffreypjacobs TY sir…

  3. mhandy1
    April 30, 2012 | 11:58 am

    @jenniferwindrum @jeffespo More often then not it hides it… Allied Capital and Enron were hidden expressly because of PR

  4. jeffespo
    April 30, 2012 | 12:02 pm

    @mhandy1 @jenniferwindrum some examples yes, but think it is less the norm overall

  5. mhandy1
    April 30, 2012 | 12:04 pm

    @jeffespo @jenniferwindrum It should be noted that both said examples were righted by #PR as well… it goes both ways

  6. jeffespo
    April 30, 2012 | 12:04 pm

    @mhandy1 #PR @jenniferwindrum its a vicious cycle and at times there might be marching orders

  7. jeffespo
    April 30, 2012 | 12:50 pm

    @SuzieLin thanks

  8. SuzieLin
    April 30, 2012 | 12:58 pm

    @jeffespo My pleasure =) Hope you had a good weekend!

  9. jeffespo
    April 30, 2012 | 12:59 pm

    @SuzieLin I did and you ?

  10. SuzieLin
    April 30, 2012 | 1:25 pm

    @jeffespo I did, caught up on sleep and got in two great long runs. Glad you had a good weekend =)

  11. ginidietrich
    April 30, 2012 | 4:03 pm

    I agree with this so much I could kiss you! We have one client is really believes this too, and we’re doing some really good work with them. We’ve gone as far as to create scenarios around what happens if someone on the executive team does something really bad. They didn’t like that suggestion, but they were very good about letting us work through it with them. I wish more companies had that kind of leadership.

  12. prajaniati
    April 30, 2012 | 8:22 pm

    Nice article, thanks for the information.
    Anna @

  13. ElissaFreeman
    April 30, 2012 | 10:41 pm

    @ginidietrich Nobody ever wants to face their greatest fears…least of all companies. Working through such problems, outside of simply providing your client a playbook, will prove to be an invaluable experience. Good for you for pushing them to face their worst fears!

  14. ElissaFreeman
    April 30, 2012 | 10:43 pm

    @prajaniati thank you!

  15. mikefixs
    May 1, 2012 | 5:31 am

    @jeffespo You’re very welcome

  16. jeffespo
    May 1, 2012 | 8:33 am

     @ginidietrich And by client do you mean the one with AD in the initials?

  17. jeffespo
    May 1, 2012 | 8:50 am

    @John_Trader1 @JasMollica thanks gents.

  18. JasMollica
    May 1, 2012 | 8:55 am

    @jeffespo Anytime pal!

  19. ShotgunDaGrouch
    May 1, 2012 | 9:05 am

    @JasMollica @John_Trader1 @jeffespo @elissapr Check out this video on YouTube:

    Sent from my iPhone

  20. elissapr
    May 1, 2012 | 2:26 pm

    @stephrakus Thank you for the shout-out of my guest blog!

  21. SarahRobinson
    May 1, 2012 | 5:04 pm

    @ginidietrich see you in TWO sleeps!

  22. michaellscott
    May 1, 2012 | 5:48 pm

    @ginidietrich @jeffespo the phrase “PR trades on the deficit of common sense” comes to mind. But you’re right, we need to plan for WC crime

  23. 4uthebest1
    May 1, 2012 | 6:34 pm

    Lofty ideas to impress a conscience/morality on business professionals who were taught in post graduate business classes’ success & profitability are incumbent on shedding the ‘golden rule’ & decency/respect. Despite my cynicism, I agree such a change is necessary, why not start here? Other social/economic constructs are taking notice and converging on such ideals to implement businesses practices.

  24. ginidietrich
    May 1, 2012 | 6:42 pm

    @SarahRobinson TWO SLEEPS!!

  25. ginidietrich
    May 1, 2012 | 6:42 pm

    @michaellscott @jeffespo It hurts me so much that you’re right

  26. SarahRobinson
    May 1, 2012 | 6:54 pm

    @ginidietrich w00t!

  27. jeffespo
    May 1, 2012 | 7:35 pm

    @danperezfilms Thanks sir…. loving the redux posters as well

  28. ElissaFreeman
    May 1, 2012 | 7:57 pm

     So true. Starting the conversation is the first step to change. It’s possible to encourage behaviour change.  Look at recycling. While it may seem an odd example…10 years ago, did you ever think you would make a concious choice before choosing in which receptacle you threw away garbage? Probably not. While getting Fortune 500 companies to consider morals over money may not be easy…it’s worth forcing them to think about it.

  29. 4uthebest1
    May 2, 2012 | 5:58 pm

     @ElissaFreeman I think recycling is an excellent example because it appeals to a primal imperative, protect the environment ensures the continuation of your genetic line. Recycling works because the pairing and appeal to our biological imperative = (ensuring our offspring’s survival by protecting the environment) and the economic benefits for communities and corporations. If /when the violation of white-collar crime is coupled w/ diminishing basic survival/desires, (decreasing $$$, minimizing progeny survival, personal gain or implementing great marketing 😀 ) there will not be a shift to monitor and punish offenders. Morality is hard to dictate; greed is inherent to SOME of our natures….for now.

  30. ElissaFreeman
    May 2, 2012 | 11:44 pm

     Thank you for articulating my example – excellent points!

  31. doth4580
    May 3, 2012 | 6:20 pm

    @Tinu @jeffespo t

  32. […] today. While I know that the procedure of putting tubes in a baby’s ears is routine as my friend Elissa reminds me, I am still a dad and am nervous.  I also got bad news on the NFL front as the Ravens […]

  33. EvilPRGuy
    May 25, 2012 | 12:36 pm

    @jeffespo …Or IS #PR white collar crime?

  34. askbick
    May 27, 2012 | 2:09 pm

    @jeffespo @bicksays intro

  35. JeffCutler
    June 2, 2012 | 1:11 am

    @jeffespo no.

  36. jeffespo
    June 2, 2012 | 8:23 am

    @JeffCutler no but is an interesting argument brought up by @elissapr