COMPANY SPIN DOCTORS have a new trick up their sleeves. Faced with an impending public relations disaster, they can turn to damage-limitation software for advice.
The expert system, called Outrage, is designed to help companies escape the kind of bad publicity that dogged the British government over public reaction to genetically modified foods. It is based on the doctrines of Peter Sandman, who advised Shell when it was under attack over its plans for disposing of the Brent Spar oil platform.
Sandman says Outrage offers corporations a way to work out how to “engage not enrage” the public. The software asks the user about their PR problems and offers advice on countering risks, based on Sandman’s central tenet that “risk equals hazard plus outrage.” Sandman insists that his approach is not spin. “Spin works when you are dealing with an audience who are not interested. You cannot spin people who are passionately interested,” he says.
Ian Willmore of Friends of the Earth says it makes sense for companies to assess public opinion because they so often make disastrous PR errors. “But I’d strongly advise companies to exercise the software that God gave them between their ears,” he says.
Copyright © 1999 by New Scientist, RBI Limited
Reproduced by permission of New Scientist