Sunday, April 25, 2004

Limits of Control, Part 2 

Last week, the Pentagon learned about the limits of control it has over the Internet and imagery. I wrote then that PR should be more concerned now about responding to charges than attempting to control them before they are released. A day later I stumbled onto the following story that shows how little control there is. When a state cannot bar prisoners from the Internet, even if the prisoners are abusing it, then one has no control at all.

The story is disturbing. For every 100 prisoners that use the Internet responsibly, it takes one taunting families of murder victims to put society on guard. But, it appears there are few ways for states to stop inmates from publishing on the Internet, especially when web sites will post prisoners' surface mail.

So, if states cannot control their prison populations, what control do companies have against former employees that air dirty laundry about them? Hence, it is smarter now for PR counselors to prepare defensive responses than try to hide unseemly business.

I am familiar with a case in which a falling out between two managers resulted in a public law suit and the attorney filing the suit merchandised salacious aspects of the suit to the media. Of course, the media bit, and it showed on the Internet immediately as well. The targeted party in the suit had no time to defend himself before charges against him were available worldwide to anyone who knew which URL to use. Fortunately, in his case, few did, but enough learned about it that national media called and inquired. The only mistake the attorney made was not pursuing a more proactive Internet strategy. Had he done so, the situation would have been deeply embarrassing for the company. But, it won't take long for most attorneys to learn to do this. That means PR counselors must be ready to respond in kind. "No comment" won't work, if charges are serious and the person well known.

Say three times to yourself, "There is no message control in a crisis."


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