The communications industry should temper its view of where it fits in the world. Too often PRs rush into a crisis with missionary zeal. If only the communications had been better all the drama could have been avoided, they say.

That may be true, but not always. Industry pundits often claim it, but they do communicators few favours. They are wrong. Naively so sometimes. Often a crisis is a crisis not because of bad communications, but because of bad practice. No amount of transparency and authenticity can get past that.

The role of communications is to work with others to help manage the business problem, not the entire business, though sometimes they will be closely related.

Of course, public pronouncements that are awash with lawyers, executives protesting their innocence while pointing at others, no clear view of the facts, institutional paralysis and distracted management all come into play. These must be handled cleanly.

Here’s the FT’s December 2015 analysis of the communications gaffes that landed VW in the mire. Except it wasn’t communications gaffes that were the problem for VW’s reputation. The problem was the egregious wholesale systemic intercontinental law breaking.

The horse had bolted long before they mucked up the communications.

A year later is it also confounding that such a massive, headline-grabbing, law-breaking, compensation-inducing scandal should be kept in perspective.

For all the talk about its Armageddon, VW ended 2016 with a record 10.3 million worldwide sales, up 3.8% on the year before. It is on the brink of overtaking Toyota to become the world’s biggest car maker.

Now here’s the rub. If the role of communications is to support the commercial objectives of a business, how would you start to assess VW’s PR performance in the year of record fines topped by near-global commercial dominance?

This first appeared as a guest blog over at The Measurement Practice