When PR People Go Wild

Our job as public relations professionals is to be both the Heismann player and the bridge builder; we are supposed to protect the company/client from any fallout and make sure that the right message gets out. At the same time, we are supposed to help reporters, bloggers (now), and the public get information and get access to our executives (when appropriate). But the main thing is that PR people are conduits of information.

It's a nice tricky road we're on - one that has become more convoluted and difficult as media disappears and social media has risen (partially because social media does not get the dance and is not as professional to PR) - and too many PR departments default to the Heismann and try to impede stories. Partially because that is our job.

But here's a great example of a PR person that just goes on the offensive to try to quash a story that, well, the public has a right to know: a hospital misusing its gift funds.


Watch the clip and watch the PR person just be a jerk. The reporter is right - the PR person is being "crazy," and well one or two steps away from assault. Well, actually, he grabs the camera woman - so it can be classified as assault. And then tries to deflect blame and say that the media is at fault.

That's what the job of the media is - to tell the stories that we, as PR people, sometimes don't want told. But that's our job as PR people - to have answers and deal with uncomfortable situations, or just have non-answers that work well enough that people forget what they are asking. Apparently some of us do that better than others, changing the conversation and smiling the whole time. The fact is that a good PR person wouldn't have continued to touch the reporter (in a way that really was disruptive and antagonistic), but would have tried to stop the filming and postponed. What the video says to me? The PR person was a bit miffed that Dan Noyes is doing his job and dug up a good story. Petty revenge never works well.

The lesson? The 60 Minute tactic works for reporters. The gotcha moment is something that a good PR person is prepared for, and has answers - or non-answers - ready at the hip. And don't be antagonistic (unless you have the charm to get away with it) because when you get into a pissing match with the media, the media will usually win, especially if it's right.

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17 comments

  1. That video was one of the most uncomfortable things I've ever seen. That was ridiculous.

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  2. That's a training video about what not to do isn't it? Surely it must be. Surely!! Please.....

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  3. On the basis that there was 'an' issue, the good PR pro would have managed the issue in advance so as not to leave the Director and the organisation 'exposed' to an unplanned media presence so #fail before he even got into the room.

    He sure was an ass in the room but have to say also though that not withstanding that he was on the side of right in terms of wanting to have his questions addressed, the journalist also behaved ignorantly - two wrongs don't make a right

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  4. In what PR training anywhere would they tell you to touch a journalist?

    It clearly looks like he was trying to antagonize the reporter into something so they could cancel the townhall meeting.

    The tv reporter is acting like every tv reporter I've ever come across.

    I'm guessing the pr guy has been fired and he should not work in PR anymore.

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  5. You know, in the PR person's defense, it looks like he's employing some of those (pardon the pun) touchy-feely conflict resolution tactics. Sort of like the waiter nodding at you to order a bigger beer.

    The reporter crossed the line a bit too, with the Karate Kid wax off move. Lesson to all: Don't be a douche and usually all things end well.

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  6. There are theories circulating that the PR guy did what he did to provoke the reporter / producer / camera team to the point that the meeting would be disrupted and they could cancel it citing the disruption by the journalists. Which is what they actually did.

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  7. On the other hand - and I am in no way justifying the communications director's behaviour on the touching front, which was incredible - a town hall or community meeting is for members of the community. Media are welcome to cover, of course. I once offered media pre-briefings to local reporters prior to a similar event. They all refused to come to the briefing - at which I was making busy senior executives available to them for 1:1 and 1:many interviews, whatever they wanted. The media wanted to take the executives out of their talking to the community role for interviews afterwards, and I objected strenuously to that. When you go to the time, trouble and expense to make your people available to talk to members of their communities on a 1:1 basis, I don't think media have a right to cut into that time or that citizens should have to hang back till after the media's done. They took the time out of their busy schedules and chose not to just sit at home and watch TV, listen to the radio, surf the net or wait for the daily or weekly newspaper delivery. But I'd love to hear others' thoughts on my perspective.

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  8. I'm surprised the PR guy didn't get punched. I share his feelings about being touched by someone you don't know. I hate going to the mall and having the kiosk workers invade my space or touch me. It makes me uncomfortable and puts me on the defensive.

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  9. Hi Jeremy

    When I first saw your post, I thought that there was no way this wasn't something stages for training purposes. Oh my.

    Barbara

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  10. The PR person was way out of line. Some could say that the journalist provoked the PR person by trying to get some answers, but that is what journalists do. They keep bugging a person until they get distracted, see a better story, or give up.

    The reporter acted in a manner of all reporters; however, the PR person is a whole different story. I have never seen a PR practitioner act in such an embarrassing and disturbing way. Like you said, a PR professional needs to be able to deal with uncomfortable situations, but this PR person just flipped that whole situation around. I don’t know what he was trying to prove or do by touching the reporter, but it obviously did not work on his or the hospital’s account.

    A PR practitioner is really the face of an organization. So, his behavior along with the hospital’s unethical choices causes the hospital to look ignorant and terrible. In addition, I think avoiding the media makes them look worse. PR practitioners know that remaining transparent is always the best route. Therefore, if you avoid the media, it will make them suspicious of you (Haven’t we already learned this from Tiger Woods?). It is better to just admit that you made a mistake right from the beginning and handle the situation from there. The media and public will applaud you for your integrity and in time, you can gain their trust back. If you avoid any confrontations and act in crazy manner, people will remember that, and they won’t forgot. In this path, you will never acquire their trust. So, shouldn't have tried to hide anything from the public, especially if it something that they have a right to know.

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  11. This video is crazy! I can't believe the PR guy continued to touch the reporter after he said many times to not touch him. That is such a violation and makes PR practitioners look bad. This is a great example of what not to do when presented with a less-than-desirable situation. Thanks for the post and the video!

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  12. I'm not sure why you're all going after the PR guy so hard...the reporter was the one that was really aggressive and in the guy's face. I agree he should have taken his hand off the reporter's shoulder, but I have also covered cameras with my hand when the crew were filming when I'd asked them not to. i think both are at fault...poorly trained PR guy and jerk reporter.

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  13. Like Barbara and others, I was convinced this was a training video. Not a single positive aspect to the PR guy's behavior. Awkward.

    Sherry Carr-Smith

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  14. Yes the PR person was out of line...but the journalist marched right past him in the beginning and was being rude to the woman trying to get his answers. He was being disrespectful and unprofessional as a reporter. I bet he was the only member of the media that wasn't sitting down, filming, or waiting to interview her after like the PR guy probably worked to set up. You PR folks need to have some backbone and and stop kissing ass. Next time you want publicity, pay for it. Editorial and advertising...same thing these days. The media doesn't have any ethics, why should PR people? That PR guy was a crazy creep, but the reporter was a pretentious ass.

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  15. Interesting the guy with the 'patting hands' said he was a 'communications director' What? - Not demonstrated by his actions! I think he needs some edumication ... he's Lucky the News guy didn't Knock Him Out!

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  16. Jeremy,

    I just showed this video in my Fall 2010 PR Writing class at Southeastern University. It was fascinating watching their reactions to both the PR person and the journalist.

    Barbara

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  17. From what little I know about PR, this appears to be exactly what not to do. However annoying it may be, a person in the media has a job to dig and find a story, no matter what it takes. As a PR person, your job is to know exactly what the media is going to ask and be able to answer it promptly and correctly. Knowing your company, its problems, and how to deal with them, is essentially the name of the game in PR. Keeping your composure and leaving media personnel with the story as you want it to be projected is your job. I'm unsure of how this played out and if this PR rep still has his job, but I would guess the company chose to go in another direction.

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