Each year, the Public Relations Society of America gives a Silver Anvil Award, which “acknowledges the very highest level of achievement and is the established icon of the ‘best of the best’ public relations practices.” The latest Silver Anvil has just been given to the communications firm Edelman for its work for Imperial Sugar following the 2008 explosion at its Port Wentworth, Georgia facility, which killed 14 workers and severely injured another 32.

While we here at The Pump Handle have focused on the company practices that allowed for a dangerous accumulation of combustible dust, Edelman was considering another question: “Would Imperial be seen as the helpless victim of a disaster or as a company poised to rebuild?” Edelman was considered an award-winning success because its PR work helped achieve an outcome favorable to Imperial Sugar: the restarting of production at the Port Wentworth facility and stabilization of its stock price.

The writeup of Edelman’s achievements also mentions “turn-on-dime responsiveness,” but the Savannah Morning News’s Larry Peterson has a different perspective on the company’s responsiveness:

Edelman’s Atlanta-based Steve Behm has fielded questions about whether Imperial did all it could have to prevent the disaster.

Behm’s replies have varied widely.

They have included detailed answers, terse denials, refusals to comment and sometimes almost identical statements on different topics.

He also led a campaign to discredit Graham H. Graham, a former company executive who became a whistle-blower witness against Imperial.

Seems like some of us have different definitions of what constitutes success.