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Avow or Avoid?: The Public Communication Strategies of Enron and WorldCom
Unformatted Document Text:  Avow or Avoid? 24 Throughout the summer of 2002, WorldCom suggested its willingness to be transparent, open and cooperative. Even WorldCom lawyers were quoted in the press espousing the importance of open communication and quick disclosure of any new findings. However, the early message themes from WorldCom seemed to mix legal and public relations responses. As the crisis unfolded WorldCom executives worked to shift blame to former WorldCom leaders — a traditional legal stance. But equal to the blame-shifting rhetoric was a stated dedication to openness, investigation and redress — all traditional public relations crisis communication strategies. The analysis suggests that though the organizational messages were tempered by solid reporting, the dominant organizational messages were successfully transmitted via the mass media (RQ3). Although the coverage often used quotes directly from the releases and therefore, Enron’s primary message got out, the coverage tended to be negative overall. Enron’s positive message was tempered by quotes from analysts who did not foresee a rosy future for the company. The press coverage of WorldCom was also less optimistic than corporate press releases. While Sidgmore served as the omnipresent spokesman for WorldCom, a generally-agreed upon role for the CEO of a company in crisis, press coverage began with adulation of Sidgmore but moved to reporting hallway and boardroom rumors regarding his longevity and effectiveness. And despite WorldCom’s suggestion that bankruptcy wasn’t an option in the early messages, analysts were reported from the beginning citing bankruptcy as inevitable. In summary, Enron’s problem with the media despite its public relations efforts would appear to have been the result of a lack of a reservoir of goodwill. Known as an arrogant company that was never very transparent, Enron was unable to convince the media that it really

Authors: Reber, Bryan. and Gower, Karla.
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Avow or Avoid?
24
Throughout the summer of 2002, WorldCom suggested its willingness to be transparent,
open and cooperative. Even WorldCom lawyers were quoted in the press espousing the
importance of open communication and quick disclosure of any new findings. However, the
early message themes from WorldCom seemed to mix legal and public relations responses. As
the crisis unfolded WorldCom executives worked to shift blame to former WorldCom leaders —
a traditional legal stance. But equal to the blame-shifting rhetoric was a stated dedication to
openness, investigation and redress — all traditional public relations crisis communication
strategies.
The analysis suggests that though the organizational messages were tempered by solid
reporting, the dominant organizational messages were successfully transmitted via the mass
media (RQ3).
Although the coverage often used quotes directly from the releases and therefore,
Enron’s primary message got out, the coverage tended to be negative overall. Enron’s positive
message was tempered by quotes from analysts who did not foresee a rosy future for the
company.
The press coverage of WorldCom was also less optimistic than corporate press releases.
While Sidgmore served as the omnipresent spokesman for WorldCom, a generally-agreed upon
role for the CEO of a company in crisis, press coverage began with adulation of Sidgmore but
moved to reporting hallway and boardroom rumors regarding his longevity and effectiveness.
And despite WorldCom’s suggestion that bankruptcy wasn’t an option in the early messages,
analysts were reported from the beginning citing bankruptcy as inevitable.
In summary, Enron’s problem with the media despite its public relations efforts would
appear to have been the result of a lack of a reservoir of goodwill. Known as an arrogant
company that was never very transparent, Enron was unable to convince the media that it really


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