I noted with interest a recent blog by Shel Holtz on the criticism aimed at AIG for conducting expensive meetings after being essentially rescued by the Feds. I agree with Shel that AIG could have done a better job explaining the rationale and benefits of this meeting, and I guess I buy the argument that companies still need to do all they can to recognize and incent their best performers. But in this case I think the better approach would have been to anticipate the PR disaster and either cancel or amend the meetings. In other words, the PR team should provide counsel that changes the original decision or policy rather than just provide a more cogent explanation of why the meeting was justified or take steps to clean up the mess. One of the most important roles of PR pros is to act like canaries in a coalmine…to plan ahead and drive decisions to keep the company or brand out of trouble.

Given the economic angst and the baggage around the actions of the Fed – why are they helping only large financial companies? – the outrage and PR fiasco surrounding AIG is not surprising. And like in many other situations, the so-called facts simply did not reach or resonate with most observers. The headlines were already imprinted.

Of course, since this initial scandal AIG has had its hands slapped again for conducting other pricy events. See this summary blog. Only belatedly did the company cancel all remaining “non essential” meetings, but the damage has been done.