The Self-Inflicted Crisis: Six Things You Can Learn From Pinnacol Assurance’s PR Blunder

Self-Inflicted mistakes hurt the worst

As a public relations person, I like to think of myself as an “image advocate.”  Essentially, that means I work to publicize anything you do well and try to minimize any bad press.  What a lot of PR and business people don’t understand, however, is that an “image advocate” also needs to protect a business from itself.  Many times this means letting a client know, in no uncertain terms, that they are responsible for their own bad press and that they need to change the way they do things on every level.

The problem is that businesses don’t seem to like getting that type of advice.  They don’t understand that public relations isn’t just about media relations.  It’s about customer relations, employee relations, and community relations.  Heck, any relations you have as a business falls under PR, and when a business is screwing it up they need to fix it.  Or face the repercussions.

Think I’m blowing smoke?  Ask Pinnacol Assurance.

You see, Pinnacol Assurance has had some public relations trouble in its past.  All of it self-inflicted.  You would have thought, after all that nonsense, that Pinnacol would have made sure to fix some things to try and stay out of the media’s cross-hairs.

You’d be wrong.  From 7News in Denver.

DENVER — The state’s largest worker’s compensation insurance company denied a Denver man’s claim, celebrating the denial in e-mails, a CALL7 Investigation found.

Workers comp provider Pinnacol Assurance lost a lawsuit by Michael Schuessler claiming the company improperly denied his claim.

Incredible.

What is most egregious is not that the workers were celebrating the denials, but that there was no one inside the company with the public relations sense to try and stop this kind of stuff in the first place.  Now, Pinnacol Assurance will be, justly, raked over the coals for the second time in roughly six months.

And it could have been prevented.

Don’t make the same error Pinnacol Assurance made.  Here are six things that a company can do to recover from a self-inflicted crisis.

APOLOGIZE AND THANK

A company that has been through a self inflicted crisis will never truly get over it.  Nor should they.  Ten years from now, Pinnacol will still be hearing from people about this mess.  They must continue to apologize to people, and thank them for remembering.  Why?  Because each time  Pinnacol’s mistakes are brought up, it creates an opportunity to explain how they have changed.  If a business has changed and has embraced their past, there is an opportunity to regain some of that lost trust.

DO A COMMUNICATIONS AUDIT

If a company like Pinnacol is so tone deaf in one area of their company, chances are they’re tone deaf in lots of areas.  You need to look at every part of your company to see what can be done better.  Not only will you see where your problems are, but you’ll quickly see your strengths as well.  Once you have that, you can understand the true scope of your problems and get to work fixing them.

TAKE A FRESH LOOK

One of the main issues all industries have is the dreaded “echo chamber.”  There are things we do that seem normal to us, but to someone from the outside it may seem offensive.  I’m quite sure that many insurance companies, who must deal with, and deny, millions of claims a year can act quite callous about it.  It’s a tool for coping.

You must bring in someone from the outside to give you a fresh look at your procedures.  They can show you areas where you need repairs that you didn’t even think of.  Plus it will give you credibility by showing that you are serious about fixing your problems.

FIX PROBLEMS

This seems silly but you’d be surprised how many businesses think that because the spotlight is no longer shining on them they can go back to business as usual.  This will only turn that one day story into a six month story (Read more about that here).  You must understand that once you are involved in a self-inflicted crisis, you are on the media’s radar.  Anything other problems will send the press back to you in a heart beat.  You don’t want that.

Any problems you find have to be fixed, and fixed properly.

KEEP EMPLOYEES INVOLVED

A key thing to understand about Pinnacol Assurance’s latest gaffe is that the employees didn’t understand they were connected to the earlier problems.  That disconnect caused the current screw-up.  When you have a crisis, you must let your employees know that they are affected, but they are also part of the solution.  When employees have ownership of a company’s solution, they will be much more likely to act proactively to fix problems they might encounter.  The more people looking for problems to fix, the better.

NEVER FORGET

If you’ve been involved in a self-inflicted crisis, you know.  The lack of sleep, the heartburn, the worry, and the shame.  No one likes to go through that.   So remember, every day, about how bad that was and you will be much more likely NOT to repeat your mistakes.

Pinnacol Assurance is going through a terrible time right now, and they have no one to blame but themselves.  They will be hurt from this.  But if they take this advice and move forward, they will survive and come out a much better company.

And that, really, is what “image advocacy” is all about.  Making companies better so that there is more good news to celebrate.

*(If you’re interested in my services you can go here for more information.)

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One thought on “The Self-Inflicted Crisis: Six Things You Can Learn From Pinnacol Assurance’s PR Blunder

  1. Darren –

    I think this is great advice that would benefit any organization. However, as a Pinnacol employee speaking for myself, I feel compelled to tell you that we as employees are involved, we engage in frequent communication with our leadership, and we’re encouraged to report areas where we could improve. Pinnacol is far from perfect, but it has a healthy, evolving culture that encourages employees to continually examine how we’re doing. With “best place to work” awards rolling in every year, and a customer retention rate around 90%, it’s hard to argue that we’re not doing some things very right.

    There’s no debating we’ve taken some hits to our image. Pinnacol is in an industry nobody has sympathy for (insurance) and has the added complexity of being a “quasi-governmental agency.” So while our communications folks work hard and smart (and implement many of your six tips,) our story is one that is all too easily ignored or dismissed by the media and the public.

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