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David Margulies, author of the book Crisis Management in the Internet Age, notes that Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation’s recent news headlines illustrate how important it is that every organization incorporates a devil’s advocate in their decision making process.
“In any institution, fully vetting proposals by debating the pros and cons leads to better decision making and helps avoid public relations pitfalls,” said David Margulies, author of the book Crisis Management in the Internet Age and president of the Margulies Communications Group. “A devil’s advocate tests an organization’s policies against how an average consumer, customer, donor, voter, regulator or the news media might react.”
The recent controversy surrounding the Komen Foundation illustrates a common problem; the foundation is supervised by a small, closely knit board of directors. People with similar viewpoints and life experiences tend to reinforce each other’s beliefs or want to avoid disagreement and controversy.
A more diverse board of directors or the presence of a devil’s advocate from outside the foundation’s leadership could have easily identified the fallout from the decision not to grant further support to Planned Parenthood. “In litigation it is common to stage a mock trial where a defense attorney argues the plaintiff’s side of the case to help find weaknesses in the defense,” said Margulies. “Many organizations neglect this process.”
A complete discussion of the issue would have provided an opportunity to evaluate the likely response from Planned Parenthood supporters, the Foundation’s own donor base and whether the justification for the decision would withstand close scrutiny.
Sometimes the process of utilizing a devil’s advocate leads a decision not to move forward with a controversial initiative. Other times, it makes sure that the organization has fully evaluated the likely fallout and has developed a communications plan that addresses controversial issues immediately, instead of dealing with negative coverage as it occurs.
Without a communications strategy, organizations often mishandle their public response, and risk having controversies dragged out over an extended period of time.