Crisis in PR

In today’s society, it isn’t only businesses in the private sector that need to cover their butts; governments and those in authority are also expected to speak for their actions (Ashcroft, 1997).

The officials of the U.S. Customs and Border Control, often more colloquially known as “Border Patrol,” are no strangers to public relations. Their actions in patrolling the international borders of America are often controversial and met with a variety of positive and negative feedback.

This past week, a border patrol agent shot dead a man who was chucking rocks at officers. In a statement released by Border Patrol, the offending agent was excused because “[he] feared for his life and… two people in the country illegally were arrested (The Associated Press, 2014).” The U.S. Attorney’s Office has declined charging the agent with a crime.

Last week, the agency came under attack for firing a female agent for having a child. In a statement, they proclaimed, “Customs and Border Protection is dedicated to the health and well-being of all of its employees and is constantly looking for programs and initiatives that positively impact their work environment (Fox News Latino, 2014).”

Back in January, images began circulating of agents teaching children to shoot guns at humanlike targets, creating an uproar in human rights groups, particularly immigrant advocate groups who lobby for more humane treatment of illegal border-crossers. What was Border Patrol’s official response to the outrage?

“This specific activity was meant to create awareness about law enforcement tools used to address some violent situations without the use of deadly force… The U.S. Border Patrol takes pride in participating in community events to help build awareness about our activities and operations (Davis, 2014).”

The biggest issue with Border Patrol’s handling of crisis is their lack of transparency and sincerity. Understandably, when certain controversies are still part of an ongoing investigation, they are limited to what they can say in an official statement; however, when the victims say or do or hear or see one thing to the publics, and then a faceless government authority like Border Patrol says something stale or unrelated in response, a gap of trust is created between the publics and the agency. This does not help the agency’s case.

If Border Patrol wants to win back the hearts and minds of the American people, they need to get their act together. According to Ashcroft, “effective management of information is vital to the operations of most organizations (1997).” If fired mother and ex-agent Sophia Cruz says she was discriminated against (Fox News Latino, 2014), and has the testimony to prove so, Border Patrol should take this into consideration before and after it reaches the media, and craft a human response that they didn’t simply regurgitate from the “Border Patrol Crisis Handbook.”

Sources:

Man shot dead after throwing large rocks at Border Patrol agent near San Diego. (February 19, 2014). The Associated Press. Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/man-shot-dead-throwing-large-rocks-border-patrol-agent-san-diego-article-1.1619811

Ashcroft, L.S. (1997). Crisis management – public relations. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 12.5, 325-332. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/215863770

Davis, K. (January 31, 2014). Border Patrol pics anger activists. The San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2014/Jan/31/border-patrol-photo-target-shoot-immigrant/

Fired Border Patrol agent claims agency fired her for trying to be a good mom. (February 13, 2014). Fox News Latino. Retrieved from http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2014/02/13/fired-border-patrol-agent-claims-agency-fired-her-for-trying-to-be-good-mom/

Advocacy & PR: A Match Made In Corporate Heaven or Hell?

Corporate sponsorships of charities, values, beliefs, and other socio-political movements aren’t a new concept; in Capitalist America, every institution- business or otherwise- has an agenda.

Not too long ago, the infamous coffee shop chain Starbucks announced their support of the LGBT community. They received both negative and positive backlash. Some time later, the chicken-peddling franchiser Chic-fil-A was outed for their endorsement of the “traditional family,” that is, eschewing the idea that two men or two women should be romantically linked. They also stirred up massive controversy and divided the consumer base.

Of course, the issue of gay rights is not the only controversial battle that a company may take up; others, such as Cheerios brand cereal, has been both attacked and praised for its portrayal of interracial families in their advertising. Brands [such as Nestle and DiGiorno, Tyson Foods] that have been found to purchase the ingredients for their products from cruel factory farms were forced respond in a manner that saved or restored the company’s image and reputation.

Basically, to save their own butts, they were forced to advocate through PR for better conditions for factory farm animals that belonged to another business.

Advocacy doesn’t always mean taking a stance on a controversial social issue. The board of directors, CEOs, or other managers of a business will often “advocate” for actions based on policies that have the company’s best interests at heart, such as which shares to sell or what products to stock on shelves. Grand Valley State University advocates itself as one of the top public universities in the Midwest [which is not necessarily untrue] to attract more students to enroll.

Advocacy also doesn’t always have to be for profit. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) has implemented a program that focuses “on three core areas: the business value of public relations, ethics [within the profession], and diversity within the profession” (PRSA, “What Is Advocacy?”). The program advocates the profession of public relations for the field itself.

So how does a company “choose a side” without losing the other team?

Two words: Public relations.

Use PR to play off of the benefits of advocacy but address the concerns. Although not always possible to include everyone, don’t purposely alienate a single group of people; try to bring an answer to the table that pleases everyone. Be honest in your press releases and official statements. Host events and invite all types of people to participate. Aligning with a charity that “fits” with your company’s values and mission statement is a smart move from a PR standpoint to gain the public’s favor.

After his announcement of the company’s pro-gay stance, Starbucks’ CEO responded to a concerned shareholder with a curt, “You can sell your shares of Starbucks and buy shares in another company. Thank you very much” (Spitzer, 2013). This is a PR no-no. His attitude of “if you don’t like it, get out” enraged Christians and lauded members of the LGBT community; he must have left a sour taste in the mouths and bank accounts of not only his shareholders, but consumers with traditional values as well, which negatively affected Starbucks’ bottom line when their stock price dropped the following quarter. What he should have done was adequately address the concerns of all parties involved, and maybe comp them a free Caramel Flan Latte or two to ease the tension.

 

 

Sources:

What is Advocacy? (2014). PRSA. Retrieved from https://www.prsa.org/advocacy/#.UvqG7EJdUVI

Spitzer, G. (2013). Did Starbucks same-sex marriage stance really hurt its bottom line? KPLU. Retrieved from http://www.kplu.org/post/did-starbucks-same-sex-marriage-stance-really-hurt-its-bottom-line

Zila, C. (2013) Creating PR opportunities with charity. PR Toolkit. Retrieved from http://www.smallbusinesspr.com/pr-learning-center/small-biz-articles/Creating-PR-Opportunities-With-Charity.html