One of our responsibilities as public relations practitioners is to educate others as to their role in uphold, conveying and protecting the reputation of our organization, issue or cause. Doing this while still respecting and not violating their First Amendment right to free speech is a fine line — but one we must navigate over.
This week, the Democratic National Committee found themselves embroiled in controversy at a pivotal time over emails that contradicted their own insistence of fairness and impartiality. Though they said they were not favoring one candidate over the other, internal documents released at the start of the convention showed preferences — even if nothing was actually done about it.
This raises a number of questions:
- How do we establish and communicate clear expectations of behavior from our staff/employees in a way that encourages their cooperation without being dictatorial?
- Do we self-monitor our systems in case violation of those expectations will damage the reputation of organization or cause? How do we do that ethically?
- If activity is found that does violate our values, what do we do about it?
- How do we get all to understand that anything written (email or otherwise) or said (in confidence or publicly) could end up on the cover of the NY Times? (Is this part of your organization’s orientation program/communication’s plan?)
The DNC knew months ago that they were hacked by someone. An immediate review of all emails should have been undertaken. A plan of action AND acknowledgement of issues should have been proactively addressed rather than waiting to see if the shoe was going to drop and when. Always anticipate that the information will come out — and at the worst possible time. Get in front of it before it does — even if it means some self-inflicted wounds. They will be much less damaging than those inflicted by others.