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“What we got here….is a failure…..to communicate” Captain, the Prison Warden in Cool Hand Luke

Captain (Strother Martin) in 1967 film, Cool Hand Luke knew how to manage the message

Captain (Strother Martin) in 1967 film, Cool Hand Luke knew how to manage the message

If you are a business professor teaching students the importance of  ‘managing the message,’ or a Public Relations (PR) firm telling your client how to ‘manage the message,’ would you please stop. No, I mean stop right now. In fact, contact everyone you have taught or advised and tell them you were wrong then refund their money.

CEO Tony Hayward got his 'life back,' but BP is still in PR clean up mode in the United States

CEO Tony Hayward got his ‘life back,’ but BP is still in PR clean up mode in the United States

‘Managing the message’ cost Mitt Romney the Presidential election. It severely damaged Netflix in 2011. It cost a BP CEO his job. It took the Susan G. Komen Foundation from being a major player in non-profit foundations to one that has to hide its name in shame. 


First, ‘managing the message’ doesn’t work. Second, it’s a cowardly way to approach public relations. Third, it’s stupid advice. Fourth, it will end up causing major problems up to and including the end of an organization.

‘Managing the message’ assumes a person has control over the message. That would be a stupid assumption in a world driven by Social Media. John F. Kennedy’s words should be amended:

You can fool all of the people some of the time….until Social Media picks it up and then you’re screwed.

PR is no longer about creating an image. That was true back in the day individuals had no voice and people were subjected to mass advertising in every thing they watched, heard, and read. That was yesterday. Today an organization’s image is created by everyone who comes into contact with the organization. Customers, especially angry ones have as much of a voice in an organization’s public image as the Vice President of Marketing. Today PR is about listening and being honest and real in everything you say and do. That is something that can’t be faked or managed.

Reaction Avoidance
Managing the message is mostly about reaction avoidance. The idea is that if an organization handles it correctly, any negative situation will be minimized. The technique acts like a dam that has a short-term benefit, but a long-term disaster. When a PR crisis occurs the first instinct is to pretend there is no major problem. That is the start of a PR death spiral that only leads to bigger and bigger denials until the organization appears to be run by fools. By then executives turn and blame the PR staff for not ‘managing the message’ better.

TOMORROW: Public Relations Techniques That Kill Organizations. The two common techniques that characterize an organization who is trying to manage the message and why they fail.

MONDAY: The Dark Side of PR: Distraction and Deception Or ‘Armstronging’ the Public. When ethics are not a consideration, an organization is headed into a downward spiral that will almost always end with a public image that can be fatal.