Thursday, July 8, 2010

Don't Let 'Em See You Sweat!

When you think PR strategy and brilliance, it's doubtful you think of Eminem.  You know him, right?  Also known as Marshall Mathers...Eminem...the rapper?  You're not alone.  Even if you know who he is, you probably know him better as the "white guy" who raps and has a less-than-friendly relationship with his mother.

Sure you might consider him a marketing genius for carving out a niche for himself, and fairly large profile while he was at it, in a predominantly African-American dominated industry.  But a recent article on the Huffington Post site, brought up an aspect of public relations that I have covered before, but is important enough to hit again.

First, take a look at this excerpt from the article, written by Tim Mihalsky on the site.  You can click here to read the entire article.
Like 741,000 other people, recently I bought Eminem's new album Recovery. I was listening to the whole album, which is basically Eminem dissing on himself, calling himself out and owning up to his mistakes and drug problems, even calling his last album "ehh" (which is true). Eminem's honesty leaves no room for the media to question him or TMZ the opportunity to have an exclusive on what drugs Eminem did. Because he lists them off himself.
Every day on the show, I have the journalistic job of reporting the entertainment schmuck of the day. My journalism studies have gotten me far and taught me how to read blogs and report borderline true information to the listeners. Having a deep understanding of what is going on with Jesse James/Sandra Bullock, Tiger Woods/Elin and Britney Spears/Jason Trawick has led me to the conclusion that their spokespersons are the problem. And that every PR practitioner needs to take some advice from Eminem. 
 First, I have to say something about the article.  I take a little offense to Mihalsky's characterization of PR flacks as dishonest and underhanded.  Yes, there are those individuals in the industry that employ this sort of strategy.  But for the most part, quality PR professionals prefer to deal with truth and honesty.  It's just good business.

And I've constantly preached honesty, truthfulness and straightforwardness in these entries.  The big problem with PR happens when lawyers get involved.  To avoid potential future lawsuits, lawyers often butcher the language PR pro's use and often end up obfuscating the truth.  Eminem has figured out that the best way to keep reporters and paparazzi from making his life a living hell, he needs to be totally up front about his past.  In this way, he manages to stay in front of any scandalous rumors and facts that the media may try to use against him at some point.

Don't Tell Me No Lies!

This, as I've said before is a sure way to get yourself into more trouble.  Reporters have a sort of sixth sense when it comes to news.  A little red flag goes up, alarms go off in their head when facts don't fit, when a story doesn't sound right.  It raises suspicions and the last thing you ever need is a reporter snooping around your business.

But the Eminem example goes beyond simply being truthful.  It has to deal with the handling of facts, information and being straightforward about who you are and what you've done in your past.  Most of us, if not all of us, have some skeletons in the closet that we would prefer to keep secret forever.  I'm not going to preach to you that full confessions are a pre-requisite for business success.  However, there ARE times when telling the painful truth up front can help you in the long run.

Take, for example, a restaurant owner.  If, at one point in his or her career this individual had problems with contaminated food, or if a previous restaurant had a horrible track record with the health department, this is information that could prove very damaging were it to come out in the papers or a TV news expose.

But what if this individual made all of this information public at the very beginning?  What if the facts were told, completely up front, and with the individual telling their side of the story without being poked and prodded by reporters?  Is it a risk?  Absolutely.  However, one of the things you have to remember when handling your own public relations is that it is of vital importance to stay in control of the flow of information and manage the story at all times.

If you're the individual above, and you attempt to hide your past, you now have given up control of the story.  If a reporter finds this information out, they now control the flow, the timing and the presentation of the information.  Now you look bad not only for having made previous mistakes, but you look even worse for trying to cover it up.  To the public, that's just as bad as lying.  And as I've said before, the public can forgive mistakes, they don't forgive lying.

With Risk, Comes Reward:

Again, it IS a risk to come forward with that information.  But by doing so on your own, you can set the timetable for the release of the information.  You can also control the presentation.  Instead of one reporter breaking the story and then having every other outlet clamor to dig up even more damning evidence on you in an effort to get new angles on the story, you can give the information to a single reporter that you trust.  By doing this, you release your information, and you, in effect, also kill the story.  If you give an exclusive interview to a single reporter, other outlets will actually try to downplay the story so they don't end up giving their rival more exposure.  Yes, a few reporters might dig around in your past to try and find something more, but if you've been up front about everything to begin with, they'll find nothing more than what you've already told them.

Plus, by giving your exclusive story to a single reporter, you also have an opportunity to tell your side of the events.  You can also take that time to talk about all of the other wonderful things about your organization, your abilities, your charitable contributions, your message, anything you want.  Be aware that you don't want to approach the reporter with the pitch of, "Hey, I screwed up in my past, wanna hear about it?"

But you DO approach them with the pitch of, "An exclusive, tell-all interview with the owner of the city's hottest new bistro."  During this interview, you can relate your past to the reporter, but not at the very top.  This way the headline reads, "New Hip Bistro Opens," not, "Cursed Restauranteur Tries Again."  If at some point, some reporter then tries to do an expose dredging up your past to use against you, you can point to that article and let everyone know that you weren't trying to hide the information, that the information is old news.

There are certainly risks, as mentioned before, to this strategy.  However, being upfront about your organization really is the best policy.  The important thing to remember is that it helps you stay in control of your own story.  Because the minute you lose control, then your organization really will be in a crisis.

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