When a high-profile company (we can't name the organization because of a confidentiality agreement) faced the possibility of an ugly lawsuit that threatened to drag its good name through the mud, they contacted DPK Public Relations.
The issue revolved around threats by a former employee to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and a wrongful termination lawsuit. She claimed she had been illegally fired in retaliation for blowing the whistle on two celebrity employees for actions that could have been interpreted as racially insensitive. Making the issue even more uncomfortable was the fact that these allegations followed highly publicized protests of the company related to employment practices that some considered to be racially motivated.
As Barak Obama has explained eloquently, racial issues in America remain highly complex and deeply rooted. Organizations must tread carefully and respond quickly any time race is raised as an issue, even when company leadership believes no problems exist. DPK Public Relations assessed the situation and crafted a two-pronged issues management strategy designed to protect and enhance the company's reputation.
First, working closely with the company's legal counsel, we created a reputation safety net for the company in the event the EEOC complaint was filed. Knowing that it could be filed at any time, we developed messages, speaking points, backgrounders and fact sheets designed to accurately portray the company's point-of-view. Our messages revolved around the fact taht the organization took the allegations seriously, addressed them forcefully and continues to execute a plan for ongoing improvement.
We provided media interview skills training to ensure the company's spokesperson understood the messages and was expert at expressing the organization's viewpoints. We also provided counsel to the employees whose actions had been called into question by the former employee to ensure they understood the gravity of the matter and were aware of the company's plan of action.
Second, we immediately went to work to address lingering questions about the organization's commitment to diversity. Our community relations experts helped to identify leaders of the area's diverse communities and we arranged one-on-one discussions between the company's top executive and more than a dozen community leaders, some of whom had been highly critical of the organization in the past. While these meetings were designed as listening sessions, we also crafted subtle messages to articulate the progress that was being made while acknowledging that it was a process that was not yet complete.
These personal meetings were followed by an open house celebration at which the company made clear that its commitment to diversity was for real.
This two pronged strategy was designed to effectively inoculate the company from the damage that could be done to its reputation by a highly publicized EEOC complaint. But it did much more. Once implemented, the issues management strategy gave the company's attorneys the confidence to call the bluff of the disgruntled former employee without caving into her demands. She ultimately decided to settle and the allegations were never made public.
Sometimes, our best work never sees the light of day. In this case, our work prevented a public fight that could have tarnished an extremely valuable reputation and probably saved the organization hundreds of thousands -- if not millions -- of dollars by avoiding a costly legal battle.