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Threats Rarely Work: A PR Lesson from HBO’s ‘Succession’

David Ball, writing for PR News, hits it on the head…

With the return of HBO’s “Succession” next month, I remember at least one teachable communication moment from the second season.  In episode six, a magazine writer approaches the leaders of fictitious Waystar Royco with a story of sexual harassment and abuse within the company. The story could tank Waystar’s pending acquisition of a prized company.

So, what did Waystar do?  First, it threatened the publication with a lawsuit if it ran the story and then tried to stall the reporter.

The media outlet, of course, responded by moving up the story’s timeline, ruining Waystar’s acquisition deal. It was only after the horrific story ran that the Roys, the family running Waystar, considered a legitimate PR strategy.

The Roys’ instincts were not dissimilar to what we see from real corporate leaders. Trying to quash a story seldom works. And it often makes things worse.

Here are PR basics that can help avoid such situations.

Underestimating a bad story

Bad stories rarely blow over or become tomorrow’s bird cage liner or fish wrapping. (I’ve heard these and more from executives.) Usually, such stories persist until the company deals with them directly. In addition, a bad story lives forever online. The longer a company waits to respond, the worse the damage tends to be.

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