"When you're in that kind of storm, the only thing to do is stoptalking." -- Collagen CEO Howard Palefsky

Going underground in the face of bad news is not a strategythat public relations experts recommend, even though it maybe attractive to beleaguered executives.

The short-term cost is a loss of control over the informationthat gets before the company's constituencies.

Going underground "is always a temptation, but we counsel ourclients not to do that," said Anthony Russo, chief executive atNoonan/Russo Communications Inc. of New York. "When youadopt a policy of not talking with the press and shareholders,you beg the question of what's going on, and that can lead towild rumors."

"Silence is the most dangerous element in this whole scenario,"said Roger Pondel, president of Los Angeles-based PondelParsons & Wilkinson. "Investors want to see management, andtalk to management and touch management. You have to domore than put out written statements. That's a mistake that'smade repeatedly."

Silence can also do long-term damage if companies losecredibility with their audiences.

"I think that going underground would be one of the worstthings to do because there's going to be a time when thereasons to stop talking go away and the company wants to talkagain," said Pondel.

Managing a debate over the safety of a product can be difficult,particularly when non-experts are interpreting scientific data.Nevertheless, public relations executives interviewed byBioWorld agreed that companies must remain engaged in thedebate.

"You have to maintain the integrity of the scientificinformation," said Fred Spar, a partner at Kekst & Co. in NewYork. "The challenge is to do that in a way that makes themessage intelligible to a lay audience, but doesn't violate thescientific integrity of the information. That's hard to do when acompany is under pressure from the media and investors."

If a company has good supporting evidence, it should discusswhy those concerns are unwarranted, said Russo. Butcompanies also should be forthcoming where data areequivocal, he said.

The flip side, Russo added, is that investors have to get used tothe idea that much scientific data is equivocal.

One thing Pondel and Palefsky agreed on is the importance ofgoing directly to a company's constituents, such as physicians."That's extremely important," Pondel said. -- Karen Bernstein

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.