At lunch today I enjoyed a discussion between ESPN legal analyst Roger Cossack and CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. In an unscripted conversation, Toobin and Cossack talked over lunch about the role of law and the media in society. Early in the conversation, Toobin remarked that it seemed ludicrous that BP was spending $10 – $30 million in advertising to say “We’re working on the problem.” Toobin’s argument was that as long as the images of the leaking well kept coming up, no amount of PR would make a difference. The bad media coverage ends when you solve the problem. End of story. Get Things Done.
Cossack disagreed, and believed that stating the honest facts (“it’s a hard problem, we take full responsibility, and we’re working on it”) is the best you can do and is far better than sticking your head in the sand and stonewalling the media.
I tend to agree with Cossack, but I think it could be done $30,000,000 cheaper at a press conference with a YouTube video on the front page of their site.
Some of my clients have been involved in high profile, publicly embarrassing accusations. Most of them want an immediate response and PR strategy to counter the allegations. Inevitably, we almost always suggest to wait it out. Both Cossack and Toobin agreed: today’s news cycle lasts minutes. The media quickly gets bored with your scandal. It will pass.
Toobin specifically talked about his coverage of the Kobe Bryant case. He said the defense team had the best PR strategy a criminal defense lawyer can use: work hard, defend your client, and spend your intellectual efforts on being a lawyer instead of a spin doctor. From OJ to MJ, no amount of spin was going to change the facts. Neither case was considered a winnable case. Neither attorney wasted precious time trying to convince the media of their client’s version of the events. They kept their focus on the legal rulings, their investigation, and convincing the jury.
As much as BP may work to convince the public they are trying to solve the problem, there’s no better PR than actually solving the problem.