Did HP’s PR firm blow its counsel on Hurd?

The ouster of Mark Hurd from HP now has their PR firm is now under examination. The New York Times writes that HP was told by the firm that if it did not reveal the circumstances around Hurd’s resignation the company would “would endure months of humiliation”.

According to a person briefed on the presentation, the representative from the APCO public relations firm even wrote a mock sensational newspaper article to demonstrate what would happen if news leaked. The specialist said the company would be better served by full disclosure, even though an investigation had produced no evidence of sexual misconduct.

The article then goes on to examine that decision with a number of pundits weighing. But I wonder why none off them were from a PR firm? Without the input of other crisis communications experts, the story seems to me to lean towards questioning the firm’s counsel and abilities noting, “But even after following the specialist’s advice, the company has not escaped criticism” and “The 500-person company does not have a particularly strong reputation for crisis management or technology expertise, although it has worked for other technology giants like Microsoft and the chip maker Intel.”

But other outlets have pointed out what may have been key to the agency’s decision. Patrick Thibodeau of Computerworld in a story on the Business Week portal said it well:

The potential P.R. disaster was too great

This is the era of WikiLeaks and TMZ, and the prospect of this story breaking on its own may have been too much for HP’s board to bear. Even if this issue with Hurd was fixable, HP wanted the problem over now.

Hurd’s story had a tabloid element. The woman, identified Sunday night, as Jodie Fisher, is a single mom with a college degree, business credentials and experience as an actress. Fisher “has been in various television shows and films, some of which were R-rated when she was in her 30s,” her attorney Gloria Allred, a high-profile Los Angeles litigator, said in a statement Sunday night.

I’ll note that as I am writing this the “inside story” of Hurd’s resignation is being trumpted as “coming up next” on the Today show.

I am not privy to all of the information that was available to the PR firm or HP at the time so it is hard to make a judgement on just what counsel I would have given, but I would have looked at these issues:

  1. Could the information come out later? HP investigated but did not find evidence of the sexual harrassment charges. But the investigation did find evidence of doctored expense reports that involved the woman who was the subject of the possible charges. I would find it very difficult to counsel that you can announce one without the other. You would be one good reporter away from having the other piece discovered and spun on their terms, not HP’s.
  2. Gloria Allred. The woman is like a walking buffet for the news media, both tabloid and mainstream. Despite her client admitting there was not a relationship with Hurd and apparently accepting funds from him, that is not the end of story as far as her attorney is concerned. Based on her previous M.O., Allred will milk this for herself and her client until the last tabloid story has been written. My counsel would have, like APCO’s, taken care to evaluate the presence of Allred.
  3. Jodie Fisher, the woman who Hurd futzed his expense reports for, has proven to like media attention. At least that’s my take on it given her participation in a reality TV show. I would have evaluated this as well.

Based on these facts alone I lean towards the counsel of the PR agency to put the entire story out now rather than having to deal with two rounds of media coverage. I’m interested to hear what other PR pros think.




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