Hoggan PR Tip #8: Transparency 301: Managing Other Sources

It’s never a good idea to try to manage the news, especially during a crisis.

But if it’s your crisis, you have to take responsibility for the accuracy of information being reporter in the media – no matter the original source.

There is no perfect way to do this, and no way to prevent damaging and erroneous rumours completely, but you should monitor all news outlets, assess the public’s reaction to stories, and correct damaging errors immediately.

Be quick to apologize for misinformation even if you are not the source.  It will demonstrate your reliability, responsibility, and concern.

This is part of an ongoing series of practical public relations tips taken from Jim Hoggan’s book, Do the Right Thing: PR tips for a skeptical public.

See all the tips Jim has posted so far on this page here: Jim Hoggan’s PR Tips Series.

Hoggan PR Tip #7: Transparency 201: Covering the Basics

In addition to sticky details that might damage your reputation in a crisis, reporters and the public want the basics – the who, what, where, when, why, and sometimes how.

Gather this information quickly so you can answer three basic news questions:

  • What happened?
  • What are you doing about it?
  • How will you make sure it doesn’t happen again?

Report what you know.  If you don’t know something, don’t speculate. Admit you don’t know, say that you’ll try to find out, and tell them when you’ll report back.

Reporters will get answers; it’s best if they get them from you.

This is part of an ongoing series of practical public relations tips taken from Jim Hoggan’s book, Do the Right Thing: PR tips for a skeptical public.

See all the tips Jim has posted so far on this page here: Jim Hoggan’s PR Tips Series.

Hoggan PR Tip #6: Transparency 101: Rip the Band-Aid Off Quickly


In the face of a public relations crisis, one common (and very human) response is to huddle behind closed doors, circle the wagons, and hope it all blows over.

Resist the urge.

It invites the wrath of reporters and it alienates the public. Although there are exceptions, getting your whole story out, as quickly as possible, is usually the fastest way to get off the front page.

This is part of an ongoing series of practical public relations tips taken from Jim Hoggan’s book, Do the Right Thing: PR tips for a skeptical public.

See all the tips Jim has posted so far on this page here: Jim Hoggan’s PR Tips Series.

Hoggan PR Tip #5: Manage Media Expectations

You will be shocked in crisis by how many reporters there are and by how much time they can absorb in separate, unscheduled but urgent interviews.

If you try to ignore this onslaught, you will find reporters lurking everywhere – pressing employees and even family members for information. If you respond ad hoc, your management team will be so busy dealing with media, they won’t be available to solve the crisis.

So, set a regular time for media briefings, enabling reporters to confidently pursue other work in the meantime. Then, be sure you offer something substantive.

Make the wait worthwhile.

This is part of an ongoing series of practical public relations tips taken from Jim Hoggan’s book, Do the Right Thing: PR tips for a skeptical public.

See all the tips Jim has posted so far on this page here: Jim Hoggan’s PR Tips Series.

Hoggan PR Tip #4: Media Bashing: A Short-term Pleasure

It’s sometimes tempting to demonize the media, to point out their failings, and, in dramatic cases, to refuse to deal with them.

This is risky.

You should always move decisively to correct inaccurate media reports, and to challenge media bias if it is easily demonstrated.  But surveys show that the public appreciates the media’s watchdog role.  And castigating all media can create hostility where there was none.

It is naive, especially in politics, to think of media members as your friends. It’s worse to make them your enemies.

This is part of an ongoing series of practical public relations tips taken from Jim Hoggan’s book, Do the Right Thing: PR tips for a skeptical public.

See all the tips Jim has posted so far on this page here: Jim Hoggan’s PR Tips Series.

Hoggan PR Tip #3: Assume Intelligence, Guard Against Ignorance

Don’t be too literal.  When you are trying to explain a business challenge to the public, don’t overestimate people’s awareness of the situation.  Assume poeple are unfamiliar with your issue and convey your point of view in a general sense.

Be accurate without allowing yourself to get bogged down in the details.

This is part of an ongoing series of practical public relations tips taken from Jim Hoggan’s book, Do the Right Thing: PR tips for a skeptical public.

See all the tips Jim has posted so far on this page here: Jim Hoggan’s PR Tips Series.

Hoggan PR Tip #1: There is no “off the record”

Always assume that anything you say when speaking with a reporter is on the record and could end up in print or on the air.

If you feel compelled to go “off-the-record”, do so only with a reporter you know and trust and only after you have agreed how your comments are to be used.  But always remember, there is no reliable guarantee that off-the-record information won’t ultimately be used.

This is part of an ongoing series of practical public relations tips taken from Jim Hoggan’s book, Do the Right Thing: PR tips for a skeptical public.

See all the tips Jim has posted so far on this page here: Jim Hoggan’s PR Tips Series.

Hoggan Recommended Read – In Case of Emergency: what not to do

An article in this  Saturday’s edition of the New York Times looks at what not to do when your company is dealing with bad publicity.

It is a great read, but it doesn’t discuss the real lesson in crisis management. More than anything, crisis management is a character test and you get the reputation you deserve.

So when it comes to a crisis, the best advice is to do the right thing, be seen to be doing the right thing and don’t get those two mixed up.

Jim Hoggan’s Keynote to the International Association of Communicators World Summit [video]

Here is the video of James Hoggan, President of Hoggan & Associates, speaking at the International Association of Communicators World Summit on June 8th, 2010.

The subject of Jim’s speech is, “Building corporate credibility on the environment: A new direction for achieving an age-old goal.”

Would be great to hear what people think. Please leave your comments below.

“You Can’t Spin Mother Nature” – Jim Hoggan at IABC World Conference from Hoggan & Associates on Vimeo.

BP’s Crisis Communications Strategy Is Fundamentally Flawed

Written by James Hoggan

How a company handles a crisis is the ultimate test of its character.

Does it accept responsibility for mistakes or bad decisions, work to make amends and to improve its practices moving forward?

Or does it resort to what I call Darth Vader PR, launching a public relations offensive to spin the public, seeking to deflect legitimate criticism?

If you fail this crisis communications test, as BP has recently, it usually indicates underlying character problems in your organization.  It demonstrates that you are out of touch with the momentous shift of social norms towards a more sustainable economic and environmental future.

The New York Times reported recently that BP CEO Tony Hayward is in the crosshairs for his repeated gaffes and BP’s alleged cover-ups:

“Instead of reassuring the public, critics say, Mr. Hayward has turned into a day-after-day reminder of BP’s public relations missteps in responding to the crisis…
Mr. Hayward and the company have repeatedly played down the size of the spill, the company’s own role in the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, and the environmental damage that has occurred. At the same time, they have projected a tone of unrelenting optimism despite repeated failures to plug the well.”

There’s a word for that ‘unrelenting optimism’ in the face of total failure to get the job done – incompetence.  BP not only can’t plug the blowout, the company can’t even express genuine concern about the impact of its growing mess.  There’s a word for that too – insincerity.


As a result, the NY Times notes that “the company and Mr. Hayward face a public relations crisis that will last for many months.”

The reason BP finds itself in a PR ‘crisis’ is clear – the public doesn’t trust BP, and for good reason.  Where is the concern in BP’s response?  Does the company feel any real sense of responsibility behind their polished PR messaging?

People recognize sincerity and competence when they see it.  And it’s never on such full display as in your response to a crisis. Can they trust you? Do they have confidence that you will do the right thing?

In BP’s case, the answer is clearly No.

BP’s only concerns in the wake of this disaster should be providing for the families of the workers who were killed, plugging the ongoing calamity on the sea floor, and protecting the ecosystems of the Gulf which support the livelihoods of its residents – the humans, birds and marine life that will continue to bear the brunt of the impact of this disaster for years to come.

Long after BP stops airing ads featuring its CEO Tony Hayward pledging to “do everything we can so this never happens again,” the Gulf will bear irreparable scars – perhaps the loss of bluefin tuna from the Gulf forever, and untold damage to other species – because BP let it happen in the first place.

Instead of opening up the flow of information, operating transparently, and communicating honestly about the blowout, BP has turned to Darth Vader PR.  Darth Vader PR begins with an ethical misstep in which important social or environmental problems are redefined as public relations issues to be finessed rather than as legitimate concerns to be addressed.

BP has exhibited a lot of Darth Vader tactics lately.  BP’s web teams in Houston and London, together with the company’s marketing executives, have purchased search terms and phrases on leading search engines like Google and Yahoo in order to drive traffic towards the company’s spin and away from independent analysis elsewhere.

BP has tried to block information about the oil flow rate, muzzled its employees, harassed photographers and members of the press, and manipulated the flow of information by claiming proprietary rights over footage of the oil gushing into the Gulf.

BP has retained the Brunswick Group, a firm specializing in crisis management, to deal with the accident response.  BP also appointed former Brunswick employee Anne Womack Kolton as its new head of media relations.  Kolton previously served as an aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and as spokesperson for the Bush Energy Department, neither of which was known for its transparency or for its concern about the environment.

It is anyone’s guess what Brunswick and Kolton are advising BP to do, but there is reason to believe their crisis response team is more concerned with spin than substantive change within the company’s culture.

What happens at BP is a harbinger of the attitude of the entire industry.  As the top oil and gas producer in the U.S. and the largest deepwater operator in the Gulf of Mexico, BP sets the tone for all its competitors.

What kind of strange world do Tony Hayward and BP think we live in when they resort to airing insincere apology ads and telling the public that the Gulf is huge so this ‘spill’ is of “very modest” impact?  Are they really that detached from reality to suggest that this was just a simple engineering accident that will amount to a blip on the radar of maritime history? (By the way, this is not a ‘spill’ by any stretch of the imagination, and the media should stop calling it that.)

Contrast the BP ‘we’re sorry’ ads with the treatment doled out by Stephen Colbert earlier this week, or the impassioned tirades of James Carville as he blasted the lackadaisical response to this monumental disaster.

As federal investigators probe BP’s actions to determine where the company went wrong, they should remember to ask the question, is this an industry that is capable of doing the right thing?

The disaster in the Gulf is not the result of some long-shot unforeseeable accident.  Blowouts have occurred throughout the industry, and will continue to happen as long as we rely so heavily on oil and other fossil fuels.

The BP disaster – like the Massey Energy coal mine tragedy – is a symptom of our fossil fuel addiction.  It will repeat itself, perhaps not in such grotesque fashion, if we’re lucky, but it will happen again until we address the addiction and cure it by moving to cleaner sources of energy that don’t jeopardize our livelihoods, our food supplies, our summer beach vacations, and our fishing and tourism jobs.

Let the Gulf disaster be the last time a CEO ever tries to downplay an ecological and economic catastrophe as “very modest.”

It’s time to do the right thing – ditch the Darth Vader PR, transition off fossil fuels quickly and work with elected leaders to build a clean energy future so we truly never find ourselves in this predicament ever again.