Missing in Action Redux: HP Responds

On December 10, this blog raised several questions about PR not having a "seat at the executive table" at Hewlett Packard, and how that absence may have contributed to HP’s tragic-comic spy scandal ("Empty Seat at the Table Devastating in HP Debacle"). Last week my op-ed, excerpted from that post, was featured in the Bull Dog Reporter’s Daily Dog ("Missing in Action: Where is PR’s Seat at HP’s Executive Table?").

Today, HP’s Bob Sherbin provided this response to the Daily Dog op-ed:

If Jon Harmon insists on making a habit of opining on corporate communications issues, he might want to pause briefly to get his facts straight. He boldly takes Engelina Jaspers to task for not doing her job, which he describes in detail in his piece. Only he gets it wrong. She is responsible for corporate marketing within the Americas region—not at the corporate level, which is where issues involving what he refers to as HP’s "well-established C-Suite" are handled. As it happens, there is a team responsible at HP for reputational issues at a corporate level. The leadership of that team was in Washington during the hearings and did its level best to work to get the company through this difficult matter. Mr. Harmon’s right in saying that PR and marketing need to be integrated. That’s how HP is set up and operates. That doesn’t mean mistakes don’t get made. But the problem isn’t a structural matter one—let alone the fault of Ms. Jaspers, who doesn’t even work in this area.

—Bob Sherbin, HP

Force For Good regrets any misstatements and appreciates any clarity Sherbin has provided. Because you certainly can’t find any clarity as to Jaspers’ responsibilities on HP’s on-line Newsroom. The only mention of Jaspers one can find on the Newsroom is this single release that references Jaspers as VP – Corporate Marketing. .

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The fact that Jaspers also has broad responsibility for PR is detailed in her bio  from her Conference Board presentation September 28.  According to printed materials made available to those attending that presentation (but not readily available on-line), Jaspers’ responsibilities include “corporate and media relations, employee and executive communications and region corporate affairs.”

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Call me crazy, but that sounds like broad responsibility for corporate public relations. And one might expect a person with such responsibility to be in Washington when the company’s Chairman and former Chairman are testifying before Congress.

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As cited in my original blog post, the information in HP’s Newsroom outlining the company’s executive structure details a C-Suite without any officer with public relations responsibility. (Certainly PR must report up though one of these officers, but it doesn’t merit a mention in any of their titles.).

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Of course, I never had any doubt that senior people "responsible at HP for reputational issues at a corporate level" accompanied Mark Hurd and Patricia Dunn to Washington for the Congressional hearing. The problem is, at HP "those people" are lawyers. There is a world of difference between obeying the letter of the law and doing the right things, acting the right ways and communicating clearly and openly — concepts that I would doubt are top of mind to the HP General Counsel.

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As astute reader of FFG Bill McKibben pointed out in a response posted December 19:

Great piece in the BullDog today. HP still hasn’t figured out what they are doing wrong. Lawyers show you where the edge of the law comes into play. Ethics is an entirely different discipline.

It shows in the title HP and others assign, Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer. Ethics is about doing the right thing; Compliance is about doing what the law requires.

Exactly. Doing right by the lawyers will keep you out of jail. But doing right by your Chief Reputation Officer will keep you in business with your customers. Markets are conversations and those conversations are not conducted in Latin.

- Jon Harmon

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