Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Apologies May Get Old

Today’s editorial in the Los Angeles Times makes the point that recently there have been too many apologies for inappropriate behavior by celebrities. It seems that everyone who is in a tough situation as a result of his or her poor judgment is now listening to the advice of a damage control expert. We all know the routine. Admit your faults, sincerely express that you regret your actions, and present a plan for redemption so that the public gives you a second chance.

The Times editorial has a point. The proliferation of public apologies may turn the public indifferent, even cynical. Since that may become the case, PR experts may begin to think about a new fresh approach to rebuild the public image of those who commit transgressions. Perhaps we can send them to character building training. (Aha… that already sounds cynical.)

Here is the full editorial.

A sorry excuse
As more wayward celebrities use rehab as damage control, the public is bound to become cynical.
February 7, 2007

LAST THURSDAY, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom admitted with a directness rare in a politician that he had an affair with the wife of his campaign manager. "I want to make it clear that everything you've heard and read is true, and I'm deeply sorry about that," Newsom said at a news conference.

The mayor's apology came with no ifs, ands or buts. For once, the public was presented with a simple and frank admission of wrongdoing. Most refreshing of all, Newsom did not undermine his sincerity with the by-now-obligatory confession that he has a substance abuse problem and will be entering rehab. For four days, anyway. On Monday, the mayor announced that he would be seeking treatment to stop drinking. "Upon reflection with friends and family this weekend," he said, "I have come to the conclusion that I will be a better person without alcohol in my life."

In his defense, the mayor did say that his problems with alcohol "are not an excuse for my personal lapses in judgment." Still, the timing of his announcement inevitably recalls the recent two-step programs executed by former Rep. Mark Foley (alcohol treatment for inappropriate conduct around congressional pages), Miss USA Tara Conner (alcohol rehabilitation after reports of underage drinking) and Mel Gibson (the Promises Center for ranting against the Jews).

It's Crisis Management 101 — first you apologize (while avoiding specifics; wouldn't want any trouble from the lawyers), then take "full responsibility" for your actions, then loudly announce that you are seeking a treatment whose first step is admitting you are "powerless." The inference to be drawn by the public is that it wasn't you who did those bad things, it was the disease (or disorder or lack of cultural sensitivity or "issues" that haven't been "worked out"). Your obligation isn't to "sin no more," it's to "get help."

The problem is that, after seeing so many compromised celebrities seek therapy, the public is likely to come to a different and more cynical conclusion: that the primary purpose of rehabilitation is damage control. The further afield the alleged disease is from the damaging symptom, the less likely people will buy it as an excuse and the less likely the cure will even be appropriate.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Be Media Smart: Prepare the Answers for Hard Questions in Advance

We would think that today most PR practitioners would be sophisticated enough to avoid being forced to saying “no comment” to the news media when their organization is pressed to answer questions they would rather avoid.

However, that’s exactly what a spokesperson for an armored car service appeared to have said recently to The Indianapolis Star, after two of its employees died in a horrible armored car accident a few days before Christmas.

I got the story from the Inside Indiana Business, e-newsletter. The writer, Ernie Reno, gives the company the benefit of the doubt saying that the “No Comment” words could have been uttered by somebody who was not a media spokesperson. That’s very kind on his part. However, management should know better. The death of two employees on the job is a crisis even under the best of circumstances. Therefore, the messages associated with the situation should be crafted by PR professionals.

Since some crises are unavoidable why not have prepared statements for some specific situations? For example, at some point every company will be in the situation of having to explain the sudden death of an employee or a company executive. The job will be a lot easier if we have some well-written messages that can be adapted to the specific situation.

Reno makes the case for having a response plan in advance of a crisis, and provides the following statement as an example of what the company could have said to the news media.

“United Armored Services has lost two members of its family. James N. Hogue of Franklin and Donald Tipton of Indianapolis were transporting currency on behalf of our company when they were involved in a violent collision on Interstate 70 in eastern Hendricks County.

“Our deepest sympathies and heartfelt prayers go out to their families, friends and co-workers here at the firm who are grieving terribly with us. While the exact circumstances of the accident that claimed their lives are unknown at this time, this much is known: James Hogue and Donald Tipton were dedicated employees and valued members of our corporate family. They will be terribly missed.

“We also express our concern for the family of the pickup truck driver who lost his life. We are deeply sorry for his accidental death, and for the Clay City family injured in the accident. We wish all a speedy recovery and will cooperate fully with authorities as they continue their investigation.”

This statement provides important facts, shows compassion for the employees and their loved ones and does not expose the company to further liabilities.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Why should newspapers put Oprah on page one to grab new readers?

The answer according to John K. Hartman, An Immodest Proposal for 2007: Put Oprah On Page One Every Day, is that Oprah has the touch with the four groups that newspapers are desperate to reach: women, minorities, young adults and youth.

Although written for the newspaper industry, Hartman’s story offers great insights for public relations and marketing professionals.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Top Newspaper Industry Stories of 2006

My favorites were #10: The newspaper’s loss of stock listing to the web; and # 1 The Web Comes of Age.

See Editor & Publisher: Strupp's Top 10 Newspaper Industry Stories of 2006

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Miss Nevada Offers Apology

Miss Nevada, Katie Rees, joined the list of U.S. celebrities offering public apologies this year. She lost her crown over questionable photos posted online. She said the photos were taken while partying with her girlfriends when she was a teenager, more than three years ago. She characterized the photos as an “isolated incident” that doesn’t reflect who she is or wants to be.

Her handlers are doing their best to turn around the situation and help her keep the Miss Nevada title. Her apology, given at a news conference, did not offer excuses. She rather used the explanation of her conduct as a way to warn others about the implications of one’s actions. "So many of us don't realize how our actions, even one night of poor judgment, can affect the rest of our lives," Rees said.

She offered the following advice: “Please don’t let your guard down when it comes to being photographed.” This advice should be obvious in the digital age. Today any situation may be captured by digital cameras or cellular phones and posted on the Internet. Actor Michael Richards painfully learned this lesson just a few weeks ago.

In addition to her apology, Miss Nevada is asking for a pardon and the opportunity to keep her title, just like Miss USA Tara Conner. Conner also was involved in a public controversy over drinking at New York nightclubs before she turned 21. She, however, was given a second chance just a few days ago, by none other than Donald Trump, who is co-owner of the Miss Universe Organization, which includes Miss USA and Miss Teen USA.

By the way, Miss Teen USA, Katie Blair, also was in the news this week as she was spotted partying with Miss USA in New York night clubs. As a result, Blair may no longer be a spokesperson for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. MADD issued a statement saying that Blair cannot be an effective spokesperson on underage drinking.

Needless to say this was a rough year for beauty queens. It remains to be seen what makes Miss USA Tara Conner worthy of a second chance and what makes Miss Nevada, Katie Rees unworthy of redemption.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006


The subject of TV bookers came about at one of the presentations of the CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) Conference, which took place Dec. 7-8 in Los Angeles.

It turned out that many of us, higher education PIOs, were unfamiliar with the practice of working with TV bookers. Bookers are part of the team of TV producers and assignment desk staffs. Their job is to find guests and experts to provide perspective and analysis to the news.

Since many PIOs are interested in “booking” university and industry experts in the news, I offered to several of our CSU colleagues to do some research about best practices for working with TV bookers and to post the information on this blog. Since then, I came across a couple of articles in the Washington Post and Washington Times that offer some perspectives on the day-to-day life and challenges faced by bookers.

I intend to write more on bookers in this blog in the near future.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Giving Apologies

There is something to be learned from recent apologies by Pastor Ted Haggard and actor Michael Richards.

Haggard’s apology for deceiving his congregation was totally unrestrained. “I am a deceiver and a liar. I am guilty of sexual immorality, and I take responsibility for the entire problem,” he said in a letter to his congregation. His apology did not leave room for additional questions and put the story out of the news in a very short time.
Haggard’s letter of apology as posted on the Web:

Michael Richards' apology for making racially offensive remarks about African Americans was more measured. He apologized on the Late Show with David Letterman saying he was “deeply sorry.” He also said he is not racist and that what came out of his mouth is not what is inside him. The story continued for several weeks and the actor is still dealing with the community’s anger and legal actions.

Read more about Richards’ apology in comment posted by Gerald Baron on Crisisblogger
Michael Richards’ PR expert
November 27th, 2006
If you were wondering who Kramer would turn to for help during his attempt to rescue his career from almost certain destruction, here is the answer. The “apology” on Letterman was pitiful. The attempt on Jesse Jackson’s radio show was improved but only heightened the opinion that wherever a camera shows up or attention is focused briefly, Mr Jackson will be close at hand. Mr. Rubenstein has perhaps his greatest reputation crisis challenge. Will see what magic he can conjure to restore poor Mr. Richards.

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