Paul Holmes 01 Sep 2011 // 8:46PM GMT
When companies make bad decisions—the kind of bad decisions that result in widespread media criticism—I always wonder about the role (if any) of public relations advisors in those decisions. And in most cases, there are only three possibilities. The first possibility is that PR people were not consulted about the bad decision before it was made. The second possibility is that they were consulted and gave good advice, arguing against the bad decision but being overruled by the CEO or other members of the senior leadership team. The third possibility is that they were consulted and gave bad advice, supporting or even encouraging the bad decision. If the latter possibility proves to be the case, the obvious conclusion is that the PR people involved have questionable judgment at best or are incompetent at worst. If either of the first two possibilities explains the bad decision, the obvious conclusion is that the PR people involved are working for an organization that doesn’t understand, appreciate or respect. In such circumstances, I would always advise the PR people in question to evaluate their career choice and perhaps think about working for a company that does understand, appreciate and respect what they do. All of which is a long way of saying “kudos” to Brad Williams, the former Groupon PR director who resigned this week. If the speculation contained in this Business Insider article is accurate, he did so because the company was about to make a decision that was (a) an attempt to circumvent SEC quiet period restrictions and (b) almost certain to backfire spectacularly. As a postscript, this story at PEHub certainly suggests that even if Groupon did not leak the “internal memo” that Williams was apparently concerned about, the company and its representatives are certainly eager to ensure that it is more widely disseminated and reviewed. It’s also a reminder—in case PR people had already forgotten about Burson-Marsteller and Facebook—that PR people should be extremely circumspect in talking with journalists/bloggers. And author Connie Loizos’ advice to Groupon—“Cool it…. this hard sell is starting to sound desperate”—sounds pretty good to me. And finally, as a post postscript, I also agree with Loizos that the SEC’s “quiet period” rules could use some updating and some clarification. Even if the leaking of the internal memo was completely unintended, it’s a scenario we’re likely to see repeated ad infinitum in the social media age, when every employee has access to external distribution channels.