An editorial in The Hankyoreh today refers to Presidential candidate Lee Myung Bak’s “disgrace” that the White House has denied that President Bush will meet Lee while the latter is in the U.S. Setting aside Lee’s own more cautious response to media questions on the topic, as reported in the Chosun Ilbo earlier this week, what you’re left with yet again is an organizational spokesperson making a premature announcement to media and shooting an important initiative squarely in the foot. That there was an outreach to the White House is certain. Whether the meeting would ever have taken place is less so. However, by publicly announcing the meeting before it was properly confirmed, Lee’s aides essentially ensured that the White House would back out rather than be painted into a corner.
Despite the predictable indignation from The Hangyoreh, this is far from an unusual event. A good number of foreign companies have been wrong footed when their Korean partners announced details of upcoming deals, “committments” that were entered into in closed meetings, “investment plans” that don’t really exist – the list is endless. In some cases these announcements have been shrugged off, in others they have had a serious impact on important relationships.
In part, this is a cultural difference and it is clear that Korean organizations need to make a closer effort to understand their international partners. It also reflects the lack of an effective media communications function. Korean organizations – public and private – need to be much smarter about they way they address the media, particularly in respect of deals with non-local institutions. Routing communications through a specific channel, and ensuring senior-level oversight of all such communications, is essential in ensuring that this kind of embarrassment does not happen.
However, the easiest thing in the world is to confirm with a partner that a given communication can be released rather than just proceeding unilaterally. A simple e-mail or telephone call confirming that this meeting could be announced to media in Korea would have prevented this embarrassment. After all, isn’t that what a “partnership” is all about?