Google is back in the downside of the PR cycle, dragged into the headlines over allegations of covering up sexual misconduct claims against two former executives. This time, however, the news concerns two shareholder lawsuits that have been filed effectively accusing the board of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., of “playing a direct role” in the alleged cover up.
At this point, the company has declined to comment about the allegations. And in this stage of the story, that’s probably the best course of action.
Taking a step back and looking at their options, the company could:
• Completely deny the allegations.
• Speak out, while neither confirming or denying allegations.
• Admit someone knew something but say they can’t talk more about it due to the lawsuit.
• Admit the allegations but deny guilt.
• Say nothing.
Let’s take a look at the possible PR consequences of each option in turn. If the company comes out and denies the allegations, its denial effectively bumps the story up in the news cycle, meaning that more people will read about it. Even if it manages to convince some readers or viewers without being able to offer evidence to the contrary, most will either not form an opinion or assuming they’re dissembling.
If the company speaks out but offers a “no comment” due to “ongoing legal matters,” that also bumps the story up in the news cycle, creating more “sticky” points for consumers to connect with the news. In this case, the less it’s in the media while everything is undecided, the better it is for Google, so talking about not talking is fundamentally counterproductive.
The result is essentially the same if the company comes out and admits someone knew something, but it can’t say anything more about it. While, yes, there may be some empathy points won if someone in the company says they’re “looking into it” or something of the kind, those goodwill points are essentially erased by the multiple stories repeating the allegations.
Admitting the allegations but denying any guilt, at this juncture, might be the worst possible choice. In recent years, we’ve seen CEOs and PR reps come out and admit that the content on the video or facts in that report are true, but it’s not bad for “insert unfortunate reasoning.” In almost every case, comments along those lines only served to magnify the PR crisis. It’s rarely a good look to express no sympathy for the perceived victim, then try to play the victim.
Which brings us to the current tactic Alphabet is employing: say nothing. By saying nothing, it gives the media nothing to report. Stories are shorter, headlines are less dramatic, and they don’t run the risk of saying the wrong thing before all the facts are presented. That adds up to a winning strategy at this juncture.