All in on sunburns

If you want to make a story go away, own your mistake – or at least throw somebody else under the bus if you are rendered unable to act intelligently. It’s that simple. Really, it is.sun

Despite that, institutional ego and a misplaced sense of self-protection is so, so very strong – organizations frequently impale themselves on the pointed spear of “policy” and wind up trying to defend the indefensible. I mean once you’re in, you might as well double-down and go all the way, right?


Case in point, the recent frying of two Tacoma elementary school students during their ”field day” on the last day of school.

The two kids came home with severe sunburns because the district says sunscreen is verboten. Somebody might be allergic you see.

It also might cause the breaking of the sound barrier on playground slides with all that extra lubrication.

The district say that if the school decides to hold a fair-skinned kid outdoors for five hours – well, that’s just tough cookies – the kid’s going to fry… and it’s the right thing to do. Not only that, the district will trot-out a stream of talking heads and press releases to justify it because once the mistake has been made, well, there’s no turning back – right?

What’s funny is that in trying to seriously back and justify the ridiculous policy, obviously dreamed-up by the experts who prescribe sanctioned behavior in our schoolmarm dominated nanny-state, the story only gets bigger, and bigger and bigger until low-and-behold, it becomes national news with otherwise intelligent local people playing the part of the village idiot on the CBS evening news.

It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

If the policy doesn’t make any sense – say so, and refer reporters to the state agency that has mandated the policy. If you’re the state agency, admit that the law of unintended consequences was at play and that a careful look will be taken at the policy. If you’re stuck in the worst case scenario, having to explain the policy without the backing to throw the state under the bus, then become an advocate for the victims. My goodness – get on the right SIDE of the issue.

The one thing you DON’T do is to continue to try to make sense of nonsense.

You don’t try to tell us how causing two kids to go to the emergency room with second degree burns makes perfect sense from a policy perspective.

Truth telling and transparency are important values in the Public Relations Society of America’s ethical guidelines. I think those ideas include not telling us something is blue when we can all see it’s red. That falls into the category of “spin,” and that is something serious public relations practitioners are very seriously trying to get away from.

In this case: the emperor has no clothes, and now he’s got second degree sunburns.