Ketchum's efforts at damage control are doing little to save their reputation. The firm is offering us an example of what not to do in a crisis—online and offline.
After an initial denial, Ketchum is acknowledging its involvement in the Armstrong Williams "pay for play" incident. Unfortunately, Ketchum's online presence is not reflecting this new information and this is making them come off more poorly than ever. Jay Rosen has been following the case from its inception and posted the following update at his PressThink blog.
The site shows no awareness at all that it is the "live" public face of a company in the news and under pressure from peers. This would be mildly comical in the case of a chemical company. It is more amusing, and ironic in the instance of a public relations agency fighting for its reputation and blissfully unaware of what its Web site is doing to that reputation.
For example: The front page boasts of an op ed piece, "Williams scandal is a 'transformational event' in PR, written by Ray Kotcher, CEO of Ketchum," in PRWeek, Jan. 13. This particular text is on its way to becoming notorious for its attempt to sow confusion in readers, who are treated as utter dupes.
It may be, then, that "a growing number of companies turn to Ketchum for help navigating the often treacherous paths of issues and crisis management," but a live, mismanaged website suggests this might have been a hasty decision on their part (the dupes.) And let's remember that this week Ketchum had to tap those very crisis-handling skills, which it lists as a practice area, in reversing course and issuing a damage-control statement.
Suggesting consistency between online and offline messages is simply common sense. And we already suggested that Ketchum could have avoided this inconsistency issue by creating a crisis communications blog. So here is one more idea, aimed at the blog-savvy agencies out there.
Tomorrow's Crisis Team
Create a SWAT team that is a blend of your crisis and online practices. This team:
* knows both areas well, including blogs
* is outfitted with the latest mobile gadgets and can be dispatched to the field to help clients in crisis mode
* helps with traditional crisis needs and is in lockstep with the legal team
* creates a blog to disseminate the facts and alerts key target audiences on where they can find the latest information
* knows search engine strategy and can recommend keyword buys/sponsorships.
Search Engines: The Untapped Crisis Tool
Bad news travels fast. Purchasing keywords helps ensure awareness of your information. This is a temporary need if you are blogging; the content will quickly rise to the top of the results. Do a Google web search (not news) on "ketchum armstrong williams" and look at the top 10 results:
* National Media: 4
* Trade Media: 3
* Blogs: 2
* Wikis: 1
Instead of Ketchum's site, you receive everyone else's side of the story. A keyword buy/sponsorship is a worthwhile investment. No one is sponsoring this search. But where would Ketchum take them if they were? Ketchum, might we suggest bringing your online practice into future meetings on this issue? At this rate, the problem does not appear to be going away so you still have plenty of opportunity to do so.