In crisis communications, they often say “a crisis brings opportunity.” or “a good crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” But in recent weeks, we have seen two examples of too much opportunity being handed to firms that have apparently decided not to waste them by just focusing on something relatively insignificant, like the best interests of their clients.
We found out about this case from Washington, DC, where the transit authority spent $250,000 on two firms to help it recover from a crisis. The fees were so astronomical that the authority had to collect on an insurance policy just to pay them.
While the journalist who wrote the story on this work doesn’t believe that value was provided, from our perspective it’s hard to say. But fees of a quarter million dollars, collectively, tell us that work was not done efficiently or in a focused way. It seems these firms used this crisis as a big billing opportunity. Time sheets show nine staffers at just one of the firms putting in time on this project. It’s hard to imagine what would take that much people power, especially at what appears to be a well-staffed client. Quite simply, it doesn’t have take $250,000 to help any client rebound successfully from a crisis, when being cost and time efficient should be among the priorities.
Our network has also brought to our attention a disturbing recent example of a PR agency that has actually seized the attention its own client in crisis. The client, a longtime community organization, is in the news because of alleged criminal activity by one of its employees in the workplace. Since the charges became public, the only communication from the client to the public has been a series written statements attributed to the owner of the PR firm.
It’s one thing if an organization hires a firm to work with the media or even be interviewed on the record. We have done that many times. There can be short-term advantages to having a round-the-clock professional spokesperson working with media during a crisis, so leadership can work directly on tasks that need to get done immediately otherwise. But these have simply been written statements (common in situations with sensitive legal implications), over several weeks, that credibly could have been attributed to anyone. There is only one real reason why they would be attributed to a PR agency owner and that is for the agency to steal as much notoriety from its client as possible. The agency is attracting attention to itself while keep its own client publicly silent. Yes, it’s sleazy.
Many of the crisis communications projects of which we are most proud or those where nobody but us and the client knew we were involved. The client was “better off” after the project than before, paying us simply for our time that is most needed and appreciating the work. It’s about helping clients when they need it the most.