Asbestos and PR: never a good combination

Down in Australia, James Hardie Industries is stumbling through an asbestos compensation scandal. Public relations in such an environment is incredibly difficult - and even worse if you mishandle the media. Ean Higgins has reported on how the Hardie PR team has stumbled through the last week (not online):

Over the past week, the company Chair has granted interviews to some newspapers, promised interviews to other electronic outlets but reneged, and has even shunned one reporter who was thought to be chasing the story too strongly.

Yesterday, the company PR rep organized a news conference with the Chair, a senior national union offical, and a victim's representative. About 20 reporters on the beat showed up at a Sydney hotel for the event.

After a bit of wait and a tad of confusion, the PR rep said the negotiating team wanted the reporters to move to the (much smaller) negotiating room.

    "Maybe you'd agree to a pool," said [PR rep] Noble, referring to a system where some cameramen shoot film for others.

    "You've got to be kidding -- you called a press conference," was the response.

    The media pack squeezed around the participants in the negotiating room, only to be told that no questions would be allowed. As incredulity turned to rage among journalists, Hellicar [the Chair] said: "You were never promised the chance to ask questions, anyway."

    With one voice, the pack said: "Yes we were."