Editorial: Andersen needs convincing pitch

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Trapped in the Enron scandal, besieged public accounting firm Arthur Andersen is wasting its money with misguided "crisis communications" efforts. Its initial use of advertising, a brief flight of print ads brimming with sincere-sounding copy, was promptly swamped by almost daily revelations of document destruction and speculation about who at Andersen knew what about Enron, and when they knew it.

The company's top management needs a better, more confidence-building message than the one Andersen CEO Joseph Berardino has had to offer on the Sunday morning news shows: that the collapse was basically Enron's doing, and that customers and investors should just trust Andersen.

Andersen's challenge is daunting. Past and current decisions will be under a microscope. Corporate customers and the investing public need a reason to believe in Andersen-even as they know its management is desperate to avoid responsibility for contributing to Enron's fate. Like the executive-suite bitterness that erupted between Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone/Firestone over who was responsible for Ford Explorer rollovers, no amount of spin can hide the fact that Enron and Andersen managements are engaged in a blame game destructive to each of them.

The lawyers have now moved in, of necessity. Bracing for the investigations and lawsuits likely to come, uncompelled candor by Andersen about error in its dealings with Enron seems unlikely. Still, the best communications and advertising strategy is a top management visibly cooperative in getting to the bottom of things. So, Andersen, save the advertising placements until the copywriters have that kind of convincing story to tell.

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