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Look Below the Surface to Avoid Public Relations Disaster

By William Vogeler, Esq. on May 08, 2018 4:34 PM

It may be noble for a captain to go down with the ship, but general counsel can do better than that -- especially when the company hits the crisis stage.

It takes more than teaching people how to use lifeboats, however. If you want to avoid a reputational catastrophe, teach your crew how to watch for warning signs.

The Titanic is an old metaphor for unexpected failure, but the real story lies below the surface. If you are focusing only on the tip of the iceberg, you may be headed for a public relations disaster.

On the Lookout

Selena LaCroix, writing for the ABA Journal, says general counsel cannot sit on the sidelines as crisis unfolds. She said counsel need to be "proactive" to protect the company's reputation.

"This means that instead of trying to rally the troops after the fact, instead be the change leaders," she writes. For example, she says:

  • Hold regular exercises to simulate crisis situations
  • Speak up when ethics are pushed to the back
  • Be active about questioning business tactics

Unlike the crew of the Titanic, LaCroix says, counsel must watch for early warning signs. Like icebergs, the real problems are often deeper in the organization.

Below the Water

When the Titanic sunk, marine technology was limited. A radio operator could have saved lives, and sonar could have saved the ship.

Today, new technologies can sink or save an organization. For example, social media can build a company or destroy it.

Facebook, the social media Titanic, is having a major crisis with security now. Not only did it fail to protect users from Cambridge Analytica's tactics, but one of its own analysts used internal data to stalk women.

General counsel can help avoid such disasters through better employee screening, clear communications policies and monitoring, and training the "watch crew." It may also help to remind everybody that when the Titanic sunk, there were relatively few survivors.

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