Should companies zip it up, or tell it like it is?

There are those who say too much in public, many more who say too little—I sometimes wish they could meet in the middle. At one extreme is the financier Nat Rothschild, who recently extricated himself from a disastrous deal with an Indonesian mining group owned by the Bakrie family, which involved large losses and much acrimony. He is not the first Rothschild to be surrounded by controversy, but last week he took things to a new level by launching a series of strongly-worded insults towards the Bakries via Twitter, which I will not repeat here. [more details in the FT.] This of course goes against the standard corporate PR/media training guidance never to ‘diss’ the opposition but to be studiously polite, even if you think your corporate opponents are little more than a bunch of crooks acting in the worst possible faith. Mr Rothschild has previously, and very publicly, vented his anger with others including the Chancellor, George Osborne; he is wealthy, and his own boss, so can do pretty much as he likes. But is he being smart? The FT thought not:

In many ways Nat Rothschild is being refreshingly honest, and I would like to see more honesty in the corporate world—it would certainly make things more interesting, a refreshing change from the typical bland self-promoting statements by big-company spokespeople. I would simply take issue with the manner in which it was done, and the language used. By letting his feelings show so viscerally, Nat Rothschild has made it much more difficult for himself to put together the next deal. Potential partners will reflect on the damage to their own reputations should they happen to fall out with this strong-minded individual in the future. The same points could have been made, but in more diplomatic language, as in ‘such behaviour brings discredit to …’ or ‘I was extremely disappointed in the decision to …’. It may not feel so satisfying at the time but most people are very capable of reading between the lines and getting the point. At the other extreme, I wish more traditionally-run companies would more often be willing to say what they think, instead of always reverting to the bland and boring ‘well that’s a matter for company X’ or ‘I have every respect for our competition, but for us …’. When circumstances justify, it is sometimes appropriate to be a bit more forthright, perhaps along the lines of ‘well we don’t believe that’s the fairest way to treat customers, for this reason …’, etcetera. Sometimes it is worth taking a stand. Choose your words carefully and your integrity will shine through; business partners and customers alike will respect you for your honesty.