Stepped In It
Turning Controversy Into Cause Is Outdated PR Tactic: Most businesses and people try to distance themselves from big mistakes, taking away lessons that make them better and stronger as they move forward.
However, there is a line of reasoning among some public relations practitioners and lawyers who think that the best way to counter a huge mistake is to tie the controversy to a parallel cause to show people how much the offender has changed.
When Michael Vick went to prison for a dogfighting ring that involved gruesome acts, guess what his public relations firm recommended? Exploring partnerships with animal groups and making him the face of all anti-dogfighting matters.
This week Vick was on Capitol Hill backing anti-dogfighting legislation. The second paragraph of an Associated Press story says, “Vick, who served 18 months in prison on dogfighting charges, said he wants to teach children ….”
Every story that Vick generates about his new anti-dogfighting views in an attempt to rehabilitate his image will be accompanied by a paragraph like that, i.e., “Vick, who served nearly two years in prison for funding and participating in an illegal dogfighting ring at his home…” So again, we are reminded that he is a criminal and had an affection for dogfighting.
Why relive the incident so often? Why brand yourself with this issue by keeping the controversy alive? Why give the Internet search engines more counterproductive keywords and material to link to your name? That’s like stacking the library shelf with nothing but negative books about yourself or your company.
We live in the smartest, most sophisticated, most jaded time in American history. Performing reputation management with a controversy-to-cause strategy hurts your branding more than it helps.
Plaxico Burress may have the same PR firm as Vick. The super bowl star shot himself in the leg in 2008 with an illegal gun in a New York club. His team of advisors surmised the only way to make this right is to have Burress become a lead spokesperson for various organizations on gun safety. I can hear Jay Leno tuning up his monologue now.
Every time Burress generates media coverage on gun safety, the second or third paragraph of the story will say something like this, “Burress, who was with the 10-1 Giants as they were seemingly on their way to back-to-back Super Bowl championships, carried an illegal gun into a New York club, shot himself in the leg, served two years in prison, and derailed his NFL career.”
Today’s Virginian-Pilot ran a story about Burress speaking to a group of children in Fort Lauderdale about the danger of guns. The photo caption says: “NFL free agent wide receiver Plaxico Burress, a former Green Run High standout who served two years in prison on a gun charge, speaks to children Thursday about how gun possession negatively impacted his life.” Readers in Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Hampton, Newport News and Hampton Roads were exposed to that bad branding.
The fourth paragraph of the story says, “Released from prison last month after serving nearly two years on a gun charge, Burress has vowed to use his failing as fuel for others.”
Wow, his public relations firm has a lot of work to do to push all these stories lower in the search engines.
The best thing to do for any company or leader in Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Hampton, Newport News and Hampton Roads is to pay the price for the wrongdoing and move forward – never to mention the incident again. A reporter can ask questions about it all day long, but your media plan should be to talk about today and the future. They can only print or air what you say.
There are a million wonderful ways Vick and Burress can give back and serve as role models for youths. Picking one that does not involve dogfighting or guns, means the “convicted criminal/prison” paragraphs will not be needed for context surrounding the cause and event.
Every organization is one incident away from potential disaster. What direction does your crisis communications plan have you moving in should you need to call on it? Or, are you already ahead of the game with your designated charity that you are doing great things for. That’s playing offense when it comes to reputation risk management.
For a no-cost phone consultation, feel free to call David Rourk at (757) 478-0150.
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