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PR thoughts: Pigs, tailpipes and skeletons in the closet

Depending on your political leaning, and whether or not you watched Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror a few years back, it may not have been completely surprising to learn of Prime Minister David Cameron’s apparent swine-related misdemeanor. In contrast, the scandal surrounding VW emissions was truly shocking for everyone.
Without going in to explicit detail, the current Top Dog of Britain has been exposed for potentially doing something nobody should do back in his days with elite Oxford society, The Bullingdon Club. Meanwhile, Germany’s most famous car manufacturer was outed for installing software that would ‘amend’ data during environmental impact testing, ensuring we all believed the vehicles were much greener than they actually are.
But what do both these things have in common, and why are they relevant for a public relations blog? Granted, there are some obvious points to be made here- don’t get involved in alleged sins, and don’t cheat on tests. But there are more lessons to be learnt from the ensuing headlines than simple logic alone.
In each instance, actions of the past- whether real or fictitious- have come back to haunt people when they least expected them. Many individuals and companies alike adopt a ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ attitude when it comes to mistakes that have been made. If nobody noticed it now, then hopefully nobody will notice in the future. Unfortunately, though, this completely disregards how difficult it is to get away with anything in a world where eyes can pry right into your own front room.
We could argue the Germanic auto giant should have known it would eventually be caught out. But then Dave would have also been wise to consider whether what he was accused of was really wise. If indeed he did it. Granted, there was no Facebook or Twitter in the days of the supposed indiscretion, but incriminating photos shared on such networks did not give birth to political scandals. See the Profumo Affair of 1961 for evidence that the truth has long had a way of getting out.
Without correct guidance, and foresight, it’s easy to find yourself in hot water years down the line. Whether the scalding comes from fraud, unethical practices, or the kind of deprived behaviour I’ve tried to avoid fully describing here, is irrelevant. At Smoking Gun PR we advocate transparency and the retention of a clear conscience to the companies we work with. Heed this warning then- where there are skeletons and closets there is inevitably a news story waiting to be published, and a journalist eager to secure the accompanying byline.

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