By Jenny Fujita and Joy K. Miura, Fujita & Miura Public Relations
Remember when you were a small child and accidentally broke your mom’s special vase and didn’t tell anyone, but mysteriously, Mom found out and then scolded you for not telling her in the first place? Think of the public and media as Mom if your business ever makes a big mistake. A good PR rule of thumb is to tell your story swiftly, wholly, and truthfully or you’ll be criticized not only for the wrongdoing but also for your lack of disclosure.
ABC News summed up the most recent example of this PR lesson on Feb. 15 in their story, “Cheney Controversy Persists.” They said, “Questions about why Vice President Dick Cheney did not tell the public that he had accidentally shot Texas lawyer Harry Whittington during a quail hunting outing in Texas on Saturday continue to persist. Now the White House is under fire for not releasing information on the Cheney shooting quickly enough.”
The story continues, “When you hold it back, you raise a whole series of issues of why you’re holding it back and what else happened and really what else is going on in the government that you’re not telling us,” said Joe Lockhart, former White House press secretary under President Clinton to ABC News on Feb. 15. “It is PR 101, and they failed PR 101 here.”
There are numerous other instances of information withholding, none of which turned out well, from the Exxon Valdez oil spill to 9/11. There are a few exceptions to the disclosure rule including issues dealing with minors, maintaining military security, or because it’s personal business (i.e., it’s nobody’s business), though even these lines are very blurry. Use your best judgment and don’t make the decision not to tell because you think that withholding information will protect you and your business. Nine times out of ten, being close-lipped will backfire and Mom will find out. If silence hasn’t worked for superpowers like oil companies and governments, it probably won’t work for you.