The silent treatment

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Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide has been criticized for its handling of the ONDCP fall-out, with agency CEO Shelly Lazarus singled out by PR experts for her apparent reluctance to take center stage during the crisis.

Kent Jarrell, senior VP-director of crisis communications at APCO Worldwide, part-owned by Grey Global Group, believes Ogilvy shows all the signs of a company in denial. "Companies think if we talk, we make it bigger. But because it is so big, if you don't, you can't control what people are saying about you." Indeed, the allegations against Ogilvy's billing practices were prime business-lunch chatter for most ad executives last week.

Helio Fred Garcia, who lectures on crisis communications at both Wharton and New York University, agrees. "The leadership has to be accountable and let customers know how the problem was caused and personalizing it helps. "

Sibling PR agency Robinson, Lerer & Montgomery said Ms.Lazarus had declined to be interviewed, but provided a statement that shows Ms. Lazarus has been communicating-just not with the press. "Shelly has been leading Ogilvy in a company-wide effort to communicate completely and honestly with our most important audiences-our clients and our employees."

Ms. Lazarus wrote a letter to the CEOs of clients and spoke directly with marketers to update them on the new developments, the PR agency said. "She has made sure that everyone at Ogilvy with client leadership responsibilities has been kept fully informed and prepared to address client concerns."

Separately, one senior agency executive, who has handled numerous crises at rival agencies, said Ogilvy is in a tough spot. The executive said: "This is a strange business. Personal relationships matter a great deal. People tend to deal with things more slowly and less well. To come clean you have to cut off your arm in order for the body to survive."

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