PR News Advisory Board: Did HP and APCO Make the Right Move?

As the forced resignation of HP’s Mark Hurd continued to reverberate in the business world and in gossip circles, word came yesterday that noted PR firm APCO Worldwide was involved in the decision.

Some are criticizing that move, including Oracle chief Larry Ellison, who said the HP board made the “worst personnel decision since the idiots on the Apple board fired Steve Jobs many years ago.” Ouch.

PR News decided to get the PR take on the crisis, gathering the opinions of members of its Advisory Board. Those thoughts are as follows:

Mike Herman, CEO, Communications Sciences Intl.

Will Rogers said, "If stupidity got us in to this, stupidity ought to be able to get us out." If accurately reported, it sounds to me as if APCO's recommendations were based in a combination of  today's cannibalistic and piranha-like 24 hour a day media feeding cycle and the short-term CYA, life depends on the next financial quarter operating mindset of many of today's corporate leaders.

I'm not in a position to judge Mr. Hurd's moral choices regarding relationships, and probably neither is the Board, but it sounds as if the decision was based on his misappropriation of company assets, whether a little or a lot. The same rules have to apply to everyone.  They were probably right, and so was APCO.

Paul Argenti, Professor of Corporate Communication, The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth

HP overreacted in this situation. I'm sure APCO or any consultant can create nightmare scenarios around any company transgressions. But Hurd was worth fighting for, especially in light of the false allegations here. He should have come clean, taken the short-term hit, and continued to make HP the great company it was before Carly Fiorina ran it into the ground. Unless APCO knows more than we do (which is VERY possible), this was a mistake. Also, PR people are better left out of the picture rather than be the star of the show.

Brenda Siler, Principal, Best Communications Strategies

Something is “funky” regarding how the HP scenario has played out. As most coverage has stated, there is something more that we have not heard. APCO’s recommendation to the HP Board was one that clearly stated, “Let’s get out of this fast” before all of the facts were in hand. Yes, it could have dragged on for a long time if they decided to pursue what has already come out—the sexual harassment claims were false.  â€¨

“Copping” to expense fraud, while the story was still unraveling, was a way to deflect attention from sexual misconduct. But business observers and the general public aren’t totally buying it. HP takes a temporary hit with its stock prices going down, but the company will rebound. Hurd looks good as he is willing to be the example for good corporate ethics. Because he is willing to “take the hit,” Hurd is being rewarded handsomely. He will slide into another high-paying job after he sits on his pile of cash for about two years. He’ll be back.

Deborah Radman, Senior PR Consultant

APCO is a fine public relations firm with unquestionable ethics and counsel that is totally correct in this case. HP was in for negative publicity no matter what, regardless of the ultimate verdict about Mr.Hurd’s behavior. The plantiff’s legal counsel, Gloria Allred, is a known ambulance chaser who was catapulted to her current celebrity during the trials of O.J. Simpson and Amber Frey.  But, Allred also is considered to be a tireless and successful advocate whose high-profile legal battles on behalf of victims’ rights have been very successful. And, she’s a media magnet.  

So there’s no doubt that the media firestorm will continue around allegations of Hurd’s behavior. The decision made here will be questioned, examined, and debated in media forums, by academics and many communications professionals everywhere.  

HP’s board made a very courageous call on this one. They were in for negative publicity no matter which way they chose to go.

Ned Barnett, President of Brand Ltd.

This is a difficult and murky issue. First, those who praise HP are almost exclusively Ivory Tower types who academically study “governance” issues, and who are divorced from the real world. Fact: Since Mark Hurd took over at HP, the stock value doubled from $25 to $50 a share, even in the face of the worst recession since the Carter administration. Since his forced resignation, the stock has lost 10% of its value. Since the purpose of a corporation is to generate asset value for shareholders, the HP Board has at the very least shot itself in the foot.

Which brings us to the PR advice: APCO gave this advice on what were then unsubstantiated allegations by a reality show “star” and her lawyer, Gloria Allred, a true bottom-feeder. My advice, if I were APCO and I had only the information I now have from media reports, would be to take a more cautious approach. I would have told HP to set up an independent investigation to get the facts and have the Board reconvene when the facts were in. Only then would a decision have been made.