The conventional wisdom in a reputational crisis that threatens an organization or brand is to be contrite, be truthful, and be swift. One further consideration that’s not often talked about: be complete. Hold nothing back.

With the possible exception of that final consideration, Rupert Murdoch’s communication team appears to be doing all that they should to respond to rightly justified howls of indignation and cries for the dismemberment of News International. They’ve published full-page newspaper advertisements proclaiming their failures and remorse. They’ve accepted the resignations of two high-ranking officials, including the editor of the Wall Street Journal. They’ve even shuttered the financial powerhouse tabloid at the center of it all, News of the World.

But with the resignation of Sir Paul Stephenson, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, and the arrest of News International executive Rebekah Brooks, this melodrama has become more the political story than a business story. What’s been exposed here is the overly-cozy relationship between senior political figures, the metropolitan police, and the tabloid press in London.

The usual forms of remorse won’t work here. Perhaps News International’s chief operating officer, Chase Carey, will be able to protect his boss, James Murdoch. If the noose begins to tighten around the principals at 10 Downing Street, however, all bets are off. The loss of BskyB may not be the last body blow to a once-proud media empire. An FBI investigation into accusations of phone-hacking in the United States may well prove to be the Murdochs undoing.

Those of us who teach Corporate Communication at the graduate level like to point out that a successful communication program consists of three elements: sound policies in the public interest, competent execution, and sincere communication. Note that communication comes third in that list. Absent sound policies in the public interest, no amount of explaining or apologizing will help.

James S. O’Rourke
Professor of Management
Mendoza College of Business
University of Notre Dame