Crisis Public Relations: To Respond and Battle or Sit Quiet?

If you have visited Manhattan’s famed Central Park in the last month seeking peace and tranquility, you may have ventured elsewhere. Since 65 employees of the Boathouse restaurant walked off the job a month ago protesting work conditions, they have been busy handing out leaflets, banging drums, chanting and encouraging visitors to the park to boycott the restaurant and adjoining boats. 

They are highly visible, vocal and loud; complete with the usual giant inflatable rat.  They even come equipped with balloons that they hand out emblazoned with a message against the Boathouse & the owner of the Boathouse, Dean Poll. While reading union literature distributed from their many representatives strolling the park, one learns of egregious behaviour the restaurant employees and representatives have allegedly committed.

Many atrocities are alleged –and you learn that the union has filed a legal complaint against the restaurant seeking an order mandating the Boathouse to negotiate with the union. Visiting the well optimised professional website of the union protestors we learn even more “facts.” But one sides’ facts are often someone else’s “spin.”

From walking through the park, or searching Google it is hard to find the other side of the story supporting the boathouse; a testament to a quandary many businesses have faced when calling a Crisis PR Agency.  Do we respond, and if so, how, and when? Legal counsel often counsels clients to be quiet and await a court date, sometimes not realising or considering the immediacy of the media and the effect of negative PR from the opponents.

Only after spending time on Google and seeing seven of the first 10 items being negative about Dean Poll, do we learn the entrepreneur started working at age 12, and there had not been an election to determine whether the restaurant’s workers actually want to unionize.  Of course, as with any battle, there are two sides, and as the owner of the boathouse Dean Poll said in an interview: “I can’t stop them from filing unfair labour practices; the majority of the workers don’t want a union.”

He may very well be right when he said “the union has organised one publicity stunt after another,” – but it’s just tough luck. In today’s world negative attacks often works because people do not stick around long enough to listen to both sides of the story. The loudest noise is often heard, and facts and truth aren’t always the winner.

While Poll cites facts that business owners may understand – not needing or employees not wanting union labour, owning a $20 Million business which is very difficult, and other factors – watching customers and the public in the park it is clear that this street theatre will have a lasting response on his and the restaurants reputation. 

While I don’t know if Mr. Poll and the Boathouse are right in this dispute, I do know that nearly unanimously in today’s media culture, if you are attacked vocally and visibly – it’s usually best to have vibrant PR response by a PR Agency – online and off-line so that every battle has two sides clearly displayed.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5WPR, a leading PR Agency, and author of the forthcoming PR BOOK, “For Immediate Release.”

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