Confessions of an Armchair Quarterback

Are the PR pros at 3M or Thomson West doing a good or lousy job? That kind of armchair quarterbacking may seem like what this blog is about.

I hope it’s not. Not exactly anyway. Please indulge me in a little naval gazing.

I certainly have critiqued how organizations in crisis look to the general public. But someone please e-kick me if I start critiquing how individual PR people are doing their job. Because the truth is, I usually have absolutely no idea what kind of job is being done by individual PR people behind the walls of those corporations.

I know from experience that the performance of PR counselors is only one variable in determining what comes through the news filter. I know from experience that…

• The are times when senior executives don’t include PR counselors at the table when the initial reputation-threatening decision is made, and that there is no way for PR people to subsequently make chicken salad out of leadership’s pile of chicken shit. I imagine United Health’s PR people may be in this position.

• There are times when legal teams and senior executives, for both good and bad reasons, overrule PR counsel. For example, many a “no comment” is dictated by legal counsel, not the PR guy taking the flack for it.

• There are many times when the PR strategy behind the scene was sound, but the news media didn’t fairly represent the totality of the response.

• And, yes, there are times when PR people have appallingly bad strategy and/or execution…or don’t have the guts to speak truth to power in their organization.

From beyond the walls of these organizations, I usually can’t tell you which of these factors leads to any given bad story. And that makes even a conceited windbag like me a tad self-conscious.

I have been in the position 3M and Thomson West currently find themselves. I have been criticized by people who didn’t know what they were talking about. And, to paraphrase Walt Kelly’s Pogo said, I have met the enemy, and he is, well, me.

So why do the armchair quarterbacking?

Maybe popping off will somehow support the arguments of smart, principled PR people working behind the scenes to talk sense into their bull-headed colleagues.

Maybe the irreverent posts will serve as a reality check for obstinate, insular organizations who don’t understand how crappy they look outside their little bunker.

And maybe the hot air will spark frank discussions that will cause Flack Nation to be more savvy, ethical, gutsy and effective the next time we find ourselves under fire.

— Loveland