W.T. "Bill" McKIBBEN'S FIVE RULES

My associate John Manzella asked that I write a piece to be included in his sixth book Grasping Globalization, published in 2005. These five rules were a part of that effort.  After publication they were reprinted in the premier Public Relations Journal, The Bulldog Reporter. Then they started showing up in other trade papers and websites all over the world.  While they are aimed at the communications aspect, they are equally applicable to most of the issues we face in the workplace on a day-to-day basis.

COMMUNICATIONS -LIKE HIGHWAYS- HAVE RULES THAT WILL PROTECT YOU FROM SERIOUS HARM, EVEN IF BAD LUCK STRIKES

  1) Do the right thing. Forget short term results. Discard your ego. Long-term corporate health is based on fair dealings and a happy workforce. Happy employees will make your customers happy, and that combination will make your stockholders happy.

   2) When you are forced to make tough decisions, be pro-active.  Consult with those involved; see if they can find a way to lessen the impact.  Be sure everyone knows what the choices are.  Let your employees, the stockholders, the people in the affected communities, and your customers know what alternatives you are facing and what you must do.

   3) Make the media your partner. Connect with them early on, tell them everything as soon as those closest to the issues are on-board.  Most journalists want to convey the truth. Candor and openness will be rewarded. If there are factors that will help the media understand an issue but would be better not published, ask if you can go off-   the-record. If you establish an atmosphere of trust, you can work with the media and they will work with you.

   4) If something bad happens, get it out immediately.  This is always the hardest part of dealing with the media.  If you attempt to hide anything or hold back, the media will speculate, rumor will become fact.  Instead of one day or one week of bad press, the media will quite properly keep probing and it will drag on and on.  The classic case is the 1982 Tylenol poisoning tragedy.  They did the right thing and it paid off.

Faced with seven deaths, Johnson & Johnson never hesitated.  They halted sales and recalled 31 million packages of the product worth more than $100 million. They initiated an internal investigation that showed conclusively that the poison was added after the product left their control. They offered a reward for capture of the perpetrator  and came to the aid of the grieving families of the victims. In quickly aligning themselves with the victims and getting the facts out, they showed they were victims as well.

Prior to the poisonings, Tylenol had 37% of the over-the-counter pain medication market, three times its nearest competitor. Their response was so successful, that they regained that position in little more than a year.  Compare this outcome with the public relations catastrophes at Three Mile Island and Perrier.

   5) "Hire the best lawyers you can find, but never allow them to make a decision."  In his autobiography, Confessions of an SOB, former Gannett CEO and founder of USA Today, Allen Neuharth, lays out this business principle that is doubly applicable to public relations.

A classic example of this rule is the Love Canal disaster in Niagara Falls, NY. The Hooker Chemical company, owner of the toxic waste facility, was pressured to sell it to the local school district. The initial reaction of the company's executives was to resist. Their legal    counsel advised against that course, suggesting instead that they draw up agreements that would absolve the company of any future problems and avoid a long eminent domain fight to keep control of the property.  So they drew up the papers and sold the property.

Had they ignored this bad advice (see rule #1, "Do the right thing"), untold grief and a financial and public relations nightmare would have been averted. The Love Canal  would remain the well-protected waste dump it was before Hooker relinquished control over its future to those who ignored the danger that disturbing it entailed. And most all of us would be unfamiliar with the name, Love Canal.