Simon Barwick | April 7, 2016

Any Publicity Is Good Publicity. Right?

What’s a brand to do when it’s caught up in a maelstrom like the Panama Papers?

Imagine being the head of PR for Mossack Fonseca. One minute you’re signing off cutesy sponsorship posts on Facebook, the next minute you’re being incinerated by the asteroid of global media opinion.

Yet, in the initial blast, is oblivion completely inevitable? Or can your response ensure your brand not only survives but also prospers in the future?

Right now, as you battle the inferno, ‘this too shall pass’ should be in the back of your mind (It helps, of course, if you know that the skeletons in the closet are not overly scary).

Knowing that silence is the surest admission of guilt, you ignore the calls from the partners to slam the bunker doors. You also know there’s a significant audience out there who’s interested either in your survival or at least the other side of the story. You must inform not only the potential counter-narrative but also anyone who’s prepared to defend and support you.

Despite the extreme stress you recognise that now is the critical moment – while the story’s hottest, while the world knows your name. Your response is calm, considered and clear. Your objective is that, when it all finally passes, the residual memory will be of the solid, dignified brand that withstood the maelstrom.

And brands can survive (skeletons notwithstanding) even the most shrill of global media onslaughts, especially if, before the crisis, they have a strong brand index. And once-obscure brands like Mossack Fonseca can actually profit in the long term by turning notoriety into notability.

In scandals such as the Panama Papers, it’s always fascinating to check in on the protagonists to see how they’re managing the media response.

In Mossack Fonseca’s case, they score some points by at least their firm website up and running, despite the traffic. In the first days or so after the story broke, the Mossack Fonseca corporate website was carrying the media response and thus all the traffic. A clever move by Mossack Fonseca was to quickly launch, a dedicated site to which related traffic was directed.

They score a few more points for the business-as-usual posture (“We’re not guilty of anything, so why should we shut down? Besides, we still have many important clients to service.”).

But the real test is in their direct response to the Panama Papers issue – the one thing that 99% of site visitors will be looking for. Here they set out their core defence of operating within the letter of the law while also, cunningly, seizing the opportunity for some overt brand selling. The skeptic, meanwhile, will no doubt spot that their ‘Case by Case Responses to Reports’ refute involvement with the more controversial alleged clients – Robert Mugabe, Muammar Gaddafi and FIFA – but fail to mention any clients from either Russia or China.

That the Panama Papers story will be with us for years is in no doubt; the question is, will it be the same for Mossack Fonseca?


Simon Barwick

Creative Director + Principal