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Intimate teetering along the PR precipice!

September 13, 2010

I found out rather intimately that PR is simply not weighted spin used to cultivate an untruth to truth. I created a business in the mid-1990’s that provided outsourced manufacturing for innovators and marketers of various types of apparel, footwear, novelties and athletic equipment. In 1999, I was contacted by two of my more notable marketers crisis communications teams in regards to my companies labor practices at our plants in Vietnam. An ill-informed muckraker had contacted them in regards to the use of enslaved child labor in the manufacturing of their products and was seeking comment for an expose article that was to be published in three national daily’s.

I had limited knowledge of public relations and had no internal mechanism for communications other than my in-house marketing team. We knew the accusations were false but were stymied by our unfamiliarity of the media process and lack of professional know-how to deal with the issue. Panic could have possibly ensued had we not had the professional knowledge of two very capable and professional partner’s public relations departments that came hurriedly to our aid.

The two teams converged on our company headquarters in Costa Mesa, CA within 4 hours of the initial phone call to begin the process of fending off the fallible and unsubstantiated allegations that were postured for the media. They immediately began interrogations of my entire executive management team. They combed through labor contracts and facility practices manuals. They made contact with the Vietnamese Labor Department to obtain our company safety inspections records and with the Peoples Labor Union that represented our Vietnamese employees for all arbitration and dispute resolutions.

Within 18 hours of the initial media contact, myself, my entire executive management team, contingencies of both marketing partners public relations department and three journalist were bound for Nam Dinh, the location of our largest facility in Vietnam. There we began an unrestricted tour of our facilities that continued to all three plants. We arranged interpreters for communications with our Vietnamese employees who praised our companies efforts toward their welfare. We also, arranged meetings with Vietnamese Labor Department and State Department personnel who reiterated our record of proper business practices and heralded our efforts to go beyond the norm in Vietnam to contribute to the rise of our employees economic status.

It was true that we used supposed “child labor” according to American standards. Though in Vietnam it is not uncommon for 14 to 16 year-old men and women to seek and hold full-time employment. By American standards these individuals are conceivably underpaid. But in Vietnam the wages we paid far exceeded the prevailing wage and we were amongst a select group of employers who provided access for our employees to a newly developing private health care system. The facts showed that our employees were amongst a growing and prosperous middle-class in Vietnam and there was absolutely no truth to the accusations of enslaved labor. Our facilities technology and safety apparatus far exceeded expected standards even compared to the United States.

All told, the public relations effort waged on our behalf was extremely successful and resulted in positive media coverage for our marketing partners. Had we not had the expertise of their respective public relations professionals, we would not have been able to muster the remarkable turn in posture of the muckrakers who were prepared to act on erroneous information obtained through anonymous sources.

Even though we had no direct relationship with consumers, we immediately initiated a nationwide search for an executive level public relations manager. Our new management partner cultivated a strong and economically feasible communications management team. I give these individuals a lot of credit for our resounding ensuing success that led to the successful merger with a large world-wide holding company.

PR is an effective tool to disseminate the actual truth and can work to culturally align a firm with the expected standards of the communities in which they operate.

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