Whenever anyone talks about the countries where the function of PR is most evolved, they generally mention the United States and the UK. Sometimes Australia… Germany… but never Spain. Any self-respecting Spaniard would be annoyed at this. We do after all have our pride! However, the events that have occurred there within the past few days should make any Spanish PR practitioner cringe; both politically and “PR-illy”.
For once, the Spanish media is not going on and on about the financial crisis. This time, it’s much worse. El Pais, one of the most important newspapers in the country has said to have evidence proving that the Partido Popular, the political party that currently occupies the government, has been paying most of its members extra money on the side. Even Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish President, has allegedly been making money under the table.
Since news of this story broke over the weekend, this has turned into PR chaos. Very much in line with what has become customary, this is how things have played out PR-wise:
1) The Partido Popular has a spokesperson deny anything and everything.
2) At the media’s insistence and that of the opposing party, the President denies everything… at a press conference that he actually didn’t attend (Don’t you love videoconferences?).
3) The President admits all of the accusations are false, “except for some”, this time in person, during a joint press conference with Angela Merkel (Did his Communications staff not coach him on what not to say?)
4) A van is photographed (and recorded) coming out of the Partido Popular building. It has “Destruction of Confidential Documents” clearly written on the side. (Seriously? Nobody on that PR team thought to cancel the service or have it come through the back?).
5) The Partido Popular supposedly fires its Treasurer, who would be directly involved in the scandal… and who had already been accused of laundering money in relation to a different case (Why was he not retired months ago when that scandal surfaced?)
6) The Partido Popular makes it known that they will take to court anyone who accuses the party of illegal financial activities.
Ultimately, this is a little guide of what not to do in PR. Grunig, Broom and the rest of academics are all probably wondering if their textbooks have not been translated correctly into the Spanish language. This, after all, would be the only possible explanation for this disastrous PR response, especially when we consider that politics employs the top people in the field.
We have here a classic example of how PR decisions have a ripple effect and power without measure. In this case, they have helped put the Spanish government and the country itself in a very difficult position both on a national and an international level at a time when Spain is fighting to build up trust and confidence among its citizens and other European governments.
If Spanish PR professionals aspire to be respected, this is definitely not the way to go. It might be time to stop doing things “a la española” (the Spanish way) and start doing them “a la profesional”.