Crisis Plan’s Leak Smudges Clorox : Publicity: The bleach firm distances itself from a hardball anti-Greenpeace strategy that fell into the environmental group’s hands.
Spin control specialists at Ketchum Public Relations were drawing up plans for a hypothetical public relations disaster involving one of its clients, Clorox Co., but they weren’t ready when their plans were leaked.
The Ketchum “Crisis Management Plan” laid out suggestions for Clorox just in case Greenpeace, the environmental action group, should launch a major campaign against the company’s household bleach.
Several imaginary developments were chewed over in elaborate detail: If a newspaper columnist calls for a Clorox boycott, think about suing him for slander. If a scientific report links chlorine to cancer in humans--which hasn’t happened--try to “cast doubts on the methodology and findings.”
Deal with the environmentalists and any “unalterably green” journalists by accusing them of “environmental terrorism.”
The Ketchum planners went over various “worst-case” events, but they apparently didn’t give any thought to what actually happened: The plan was leaked to Greenpeace, which gave it to the media.
Spokesman Peter Dykstra said the group has never had any plans to target Clorox bleach, but is sticking to its campaign against the pulp and paper industry’s use of chlorine, which Greenpeace says is dangerous to people and the environment.
In Oakland, Calif., Clorox issued a statement distancing itself from the Ketchum crisis plan.
“Clorox management was not involved in its preparation, and is not acting on its recommendations,” said Sandy Sullivan, manager of consumer information and education. “The consulting firm’s language and overly descriptive analysis detracts from its central theme.”
The statement says Clorox’s active ingredient, sodium hypochlorite, is safe and effective and is no more closely related to chlorine than is ordinary table salt, sodium chloride.
“It is perhaps the most widely used, inexpensive and effective disinfectant in the world. For example, it is routinely used to safely disinfect drinking water after a disaster,” Clorox said.
Greenpeace had no quarrel with that description, although Dykstra asked: “If there is no such problem, then why this document?”
David Drobis, president of New York-based Ketchum Public Relations, said: “It shouldn’t be surprising that any company has such a plan. In fact, it would be more surprising to find out that a major company didn’t.”
In this case, he said, several drafts were prepared and discussed with Clorox public relations personnel, but the plan was never submitted to Clorox management for approval.
Asked about Greenpeace’s complaint that some elements of the plan went beyond normal bounds, Drobis said: “What a crisis plan is, is to anticipate every possible scenario.”
A Ketchum statement concluded by saying of the leak to Greenpeace:
“We don’t know how it happened, but we’re doing everything possible to find out and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Asked if the incident will make Clorox reconsider its relationship with Ketchum, Sullivan said she did not want to go beyond her prepared statement.
Dykstra said Greenpeace still has no plans to campaign against Clorox, despite its possession of a plan that practically sets out a protest strategy.
“It certainly has attracted our attention,” he said, “but it won’t have a strong role in changing our agenda.”