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Leaders and PR disasters


Disciplines > Leadership > Leadership actions > Leaders and PR disasters

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When there is a failure by the organization that has significant external impact, the leader needs to step forward and take a leading role in managing the PR.

The first step is to open up, come clean and admit that the organization has failed in some way. Along with this is announcing an enquiry into what went wrong. In extreme cases, this may need to be a public enquiry.

People inside the company may well be panicked or uncertain, as this is unlikely to be a familiar problem. Leadership is needed here to calm nerves and ensure appropriate behavior. Legal advice will be needed. The world's media may need to be managed (or at least the interface to them). Regular updates to staff may be appropriate.


Glass is found in bottles of a beer. The local brewery immediately calls in all bottles. The ultrasound test machine that detects such problems is found to have developed a fault. It was calibrated a week ago so the extent is understood. The company works with bars and the local press in making an announcement and fielding questions. QA procedures are tightened up.


Leadership is particularly important when people do not know what to do and when they are distressed. Situations where the company's reputation (and maybe future) is at stake is a critical time for leaders to step forward.

The business literature is full of examples of companies that tried to hide the truth and ended up paying a huge social and business cost for their deception. A classic example is the oil spill from the Exxon Valdiz tanker.

In pretty much all circumstances it is best to own up and deal with the issue as it happens. Cover-ups may work for a while but whistle-blowers can surface even years later.

See also

Balancing conviction and openness, Trust


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