Investigating the Root Cause of a Controversy

Oh, geez. Looks like your company has stepped in it this time. You were sitting at home with the dog watching “Big Bang Theory” when the phone rang. Jim, the VP of your little but growing company, tells you to turn on the news.

And there it is: your company’s name splattered all over the screen, and not in a way that helps your sales this week. As the chief PR pro in your office, it’s your task to figure out what to do … and fast.

But there’s one problem: you have no idea what the real problem is. It’s easy to think what’s splashed about on the news is the real issue, but often there’s a root cause for the controversy.

One extremely obvious example is BP’s former CEO Tony Hayward during the oil leakage crisis in the Gulf. Tony went on national TV and made some remarks that downplayed the disaster and made him seem like a martyr in the whole ordeal. Everyone was up in arms about it, and for good reason; however, what was the root cause of everything going on?

The oil leakage! In the end, it all came back to that.

Why Bother?

First and foremost, why should you even bother finding the root cause? Shouldn’t you just deal with the problems as they arise?

Consider the (again, obvious) example above. If you dealt with the “pressing” controversy, in this case Hayward’s offensive remarks, then you would be ignoring the root cause, in this case the spill. You can fight the little fires all day long but you’ll never get to the source of the flames if you don’t dig deep.

Therefore, it’s always a good idea to figure out what the main issue is. Of course some things may need to be dealt with sooner than later, and that’s fine. But eventually (and as soon as possible) you should find out where the trouble started.

How to Root It Out

When solving the riddle of what caused the big hiccup with your company, one tactic is to work backwards. Let’s say your company’s bad press involved your CEO calling a member of the press a rather naughty name. It came during a seemingly routine press conference when discussing the company’s new product line.

You begin to wonder: why did Mr. CEO flip out like that? Is there anything more to this than just a slip of the tongue? After a little research, you find that particular reporter has been constantly hounding members of the company about alleged failures in the product line. He’s apparently going to write a big piece about it and print it in the local paper.

Aha, now there’s a bigger game afoot. Instead of just tackling the CEO gaffe, you now must focus on the real task at hand – the product issues and the reporter’s accusations. If you just concentrate on fixing the CEO problem, you risk missing the bigger picture – and the larger issue at hand, potentially harming the company.

Have you weathered a major controversy at your company?

This article is written by Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases (, the online leader in affordable press release distribution. Download your free copy of the Beginner’s Guide to Writing Powerful Press Releases here:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *