Last Thursday night, while attending an event at the Mackinac Policy Conference hosted by a media organization, one of that organization’s reporters pulled me aside. He let me know that the Wall Street Journal was reporting that PulteGroup, a longtime Michigan-based company and the parent company of Pulte Homes, was moving its headquarters and hundreds of jobs to Atlanta. He wondered if I had any PR contacts at Pulte.
When I went online that night and first thing the next morning, I saw stories like this – all based off the initial report, with speculation from others, and nothing, not even a message point, from the company. In fact, it took about 14 hours after the first report for the company to put out its release and its explanation. In this case, Pulte was the latest company to fall victim to the enemy of effective PR management – leaks.
Thanks to text messaging and social media, it is tougher than ever to contain leaks. But in a situation like this, it remains imperative to consider leak prevention the most important core to the communications strategy. Most importantly, the company should be “first to market” with its messages and its story. Also, employees should hear the news from the company, not via the media. Additionally, government officials should learn of the news from the company and not told by journalists looking for information (in this case, key staff people for Michigan’s Governor found out from reporters at the Conference).
We have worked with announcements like this in the modern era of communications. Our strategies have been based around a small circle of those “in the tent” with knowledge of the situation and a detailed and compressed timeline of when others know the news and how they find out, with affected employees and communities finding out before news can be widely reported, with the company’s messaging leading the way. That often means moving quickly, with precision. But if top management buys into a plan, it can happen effectively and respectfully.
Last week’s Pulte announcement should serve as a case study and a lesson. If you don’t have a system to contain leaks in place, no PR pro can help contain the waterfall of coverage that happens without your consent or control.