Wednesday, July 27

Hacks vs. Flacks

The Office of Corporate Counsel holds a lot of sway in many businesses, but isn't immune to big PR blunders.

Many times, the office lawyer nixes promotional ideas for potential liability, and even parses your media communications for trivial little changes. That level of internal authority can give the J.D. a bulletproof mentality, especially when it comes to ignoring the expertise of the PR practitioner. Face it... when was the last time the boss told counsel to "hold off" while the public relations department pondered the action?

Well... it should have happened in Baltimore. A Greyhound bus crash injured 34 people there on Monday. While the victims were still hospitalized, Greyhound lawyers combed the hospital looking for people to sign a liability waiver -- offering at least one person "medical expenses plus $2,500."

I'm sure the corporate suits saw this as a no-brainer, and a way to avoid some costly suits. But the strategy did not sit well with passenger Chris Childs:
"I thought it was tacky. It basically matched how I feel about the company," said Childs, 36, who has retained a lawyer. "I never figured somebody would offer you money on the day of the accident."
Now, the company will spend an undetermined sum (in time and cash) to re-build a positive image. The bus crash is an accident, and can be forgiven. Sending the sharks into the E.R. is willful, and hard to forget.

In typical fashion, Greyhound's PR representative had to clean up a mess long after the roads had re-opened:
When asked about Childs' account, Greyhound spokeswoman Kim Plaskett said that any passengers who want to complain about customer service should call the customer-assistance line at 214-849-8966.

"I can't confirm what happened in the emergency room," said Plaskett.

"I can say Greyhound representatives did go to the hospital to make sure they were taken care of."
...and in typical fashion, the Office of Corporate Counsel gagged her. Hey lawyer-types, when it comes to protecting corporate image, "leave the driving to us."