This story on the Huffington Post sneeringly treats a new offering in the financial world: negative publicity insurance. The policy will be offered by a division of AIG, and will give companies in crisis access to PR damage-control specialists Burson-Marsteller and Porter Novelli.
Why is this a story anyone should feel negative about? The fact that AIG didn’t do very well controlling its own damage is immaterial, since it’s offering insurance so that the reputation of others can be helped by companies other than AIG.
Beyond a gratuitous swipe at AIG, lazy journalists don’t tend to like PR companies, period. That’s because journalists like to get right at the company they’re writing about and often resent intermediaries. Yet intermediaries are simply another kind of specialist. Why would the CEO of an oil company know the best way to talk to the media, any more than a reporter would know how to run an oil company?
It’s not always a matter of just “telling the truth,” because during a crisis litigation is almost always pending and certain facts are subject to attorney-client privilege.
Better journalists mind PR companies less, because better journalists use a lot of the same resources good lawyers and investigators use: public records and interviews with former employees of the company they are looking at.
And guess what? If you call up a PR company standing between you and the CEO of an embattled company and you ask a great question based on lots of research in securities records, court documents, and interviews, it will matter much less whether there’s a PR company in your way. If the company needs to answer the question, it will do so regardless of any PR advisor. If they can’t or won’t answer it, a good question is still a good question whether or not there’s a “no comment” after it.