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Controlling the Media Message: The Angelina Effect
by Danielle Giaccio

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This past week, the world was shocked to find out that one of the entertainment world’s most popular and sexiest woman, Angelina Jolie, had undergone a double mastectomy. When people think of Angelina, they can’t help but think of her “killer body” but also, they think of a woman who has made it a point to do good in this world and use her celebrity status to do that. Angelina did something a lot of celebrities choose to do in a world where one tweet can lead to a full blown scandal if not perceived correctly by the general public – she got in front of the message.

Angelina JolieAngelina chose to write an op-ed in the New York Times, on “My Medical Choice” to own the story and control her message, rather than having the media control the message for her. Often times when a celebrity gets in front of something, such as a scandal or big public announcement, it is easier to control the message they want to get out there. Rather than having some hospital worker leak a story and have it on the front page of Star Magazine, she chose to bravely tell her story and get the message out there that she is strong, in better health, and is telling story directly, rather than have someone else speculate on the facts.

In PR, whether dealing with a person or a business, it is important for PR professionals to advise clients on the best way to control the media message. Angelina’s PR team clearly went the right route by putting Angelina “front and center” to own her decision and spin it in a way that’s positive and inspiring to others.

Angelina’s PR team also did the right thing by putting her in a light that made her seem like every other woman. They made her more relatable than she’s ever been.  The general public has a tendency to view celebrities as “superhuman,” so Angelina’s decision to publicize her story in a personal way made her struggle the same as any woman in Minnesota, or Alabama, or New York. She became a voice for all women struggling to make the same decision and she used her celebrity stature to not only control what the media would say, but to also use her voice to help others.

Angelina’s message was simple; this happened to me, I am strong, and I am going to use my voice to tell other woman in similar situations that there are other options. Her words struck a chord with many breast cancer survivors and victims and definitely brought a bigger conversation to light as women can see this is a viable option if you are someone who carries that gene.

At Gutenberg, we are proud to represent HERS Breast Cancer Foundation, an organization aimed at supporting all women healing from breast cancer by providing post-surgical products and services regardless of financial status.

We have had the pleasure of working with women who are survivors of this disease and who work tirelessly to promote awareness and help women in need of treatment or care options. We all owe a great gratitude to Angelina for not only bringing the conversation to the forefront, but also for controlling the message and letting people know that her struggle is one of many and that it does get better.


The Rubio Effect
by Danielle Giaccio

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On a night when Marco Rubio was poised deliver the GOP rebuttal to the President’s State of the Union address, something happened that the PR team at Poland Spring must have (or should have) jumped on.  If you missed it, Rubio leaned over, mid-speech, and sipped a mini bottle of Poland Spring water.

The media has been relentless in mocking Rubio for his gaffe and an influx of “memes” has been created since then. As a PR professional, we must learn to not only monitor but jump ahead of the curve and create compelling and memorable campaigns around both planned and unplanned events. In my opinion, Poland Spring lost a huge opportunity by not jumping on the bandwagon and creating something memorable from it.

No one is thinking about what he said, rather the news has been linked to his refreshing gulp of Poland Spring than to his actual speech. Poland Spring first and foremost should have exploded on social media as soon as it happened. Their Twitter feed was silent during and after it happened, which was a mistake. They should have started trending something along the lines of #RubioThirstQuencher or #DryMouthRubio something along those lines. They then could have made an announcement offering Marco Rubio a lifetime supply of their mini water bottles so he will never get parched, mid-speech, again.

Instead of hiding his head in shame, Reclaim America, Rubio’s political action committee, began selling a reusable “Rubio” water bottle after his awkward moment of thirst. Anyone who donates $25 or more gets one and the PAC website reads “Send the liberal detractors a message that not only does Marco Rubio inspire you… he hydrates you too.” This was great thinking on the part of the PR team. Rather than hiding from the moment, they are embracing it by not only capitalizing on the moment, but enticing people to donate to the Florida senator with a fun play on words to make up for the momentary thirst quench.

Poland Spring could learn a few things from Reclaim America. They were able to capitalize on something that was trending and made it work to their advantage. That is a large part of what PR people need to and should be doing when it concerns their clients. This is especially true in social media. Poland Spring’s PR team lost an opportunity to expand their already huge brand by poking fun at Rubio, whether it was via social media or a press release.  Whether or not Rubio plans on running for President in 2016 remains to be seen but one thing is for sure, he will live in infamy for his reach to that mini Poland Spring bottle.  And Poland Spring will be kicking themselves as this takes on a life of its own, without the help of their PR team.

So what should Poland Spring have done? For starters,  monitor relevant coverage in real time. They should have jumped on that as soon as Wolf Blitzer went “uh-oh” when he took a sip. They also need a heavy dose of social media training and should think more about how social media can amplify their message. If they were active on social media during and after this happened, they could have used it as an opportunity for clever brand exposure.  Social channels act in real time.  Its not worth tweeting about three days later. # yesterdaysnews

As PR people, we need to constantly think about how our placements or other media attention can start a new conversation in social media, and that conversation can (and does) take on a life of its own.  Think about how this one event could have impacted sales of the Poland Spring mini, if Poland Spring acted quickly.

End of an Occupation – End of a News Cycle?
by Liana Hawes

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Brookfield Properties owner and former New York City Planning Commission Chairman John E. Zuccotti has a public park named after him in the Financial District of lower Manhattan where Trinity Place, Cedar Street, Broadway and Liberty Street converge. The site itself was formerly known as Liberty Park Plaza, one block south east (or thereabouts) of the World Trade Center. If you’ve ever had a day job in the Financial District, you’ll know what an important respite this Plaza, with its trees and seats, was (is) to a weary workers on lunch break. 

Zuccotti’s real estate, and the area surrounding it, has a place in history as defending private commercial interests. While the plaza itself has been used frequently in the 20th century for public demonstrations and the staging of protests, back in the 17th century the ground was part of the Dutch Colonial settlement “New Amsterdam”, an extension of the Dutch Republic. The settlement was just outside of Fort Amsterdam (which protected the interest of the Dutch East India Company’s fur trade operations on the Hudson River) and strategically situated on the southern tip of Manhattan Island. This region, including the settlement and the Fort which was the Colony’s capital, eventually became known as New York City.  In recent history, as the Towers fell, Liberty Park Plaza was covered with debris and in the aftermath was used as a staging area for recovery efforts.

Over the past few weeks the park has again taken a place on center stage as it’s been a staging area for the OWS movement. On a recent visit to the Occupy Wall Street encampment, I was particularly struck at how impressively the OWS drum battery was staged in the Plaza. They sounded terrific and beat a call for all the tourists and onlookers who walked by in curiosity, disgust, wonder, ignorance and encouragement. 

After throngs of spectators trampled through the Park’s maze over this past weekend of assemblage, protests and camping, the Plaza was yet again strewn with debris – trash – which has since been cleared – along with the Protesters. It was empty and clean this morning and glam shots of pristine Zuccotti Park evoked the Liberty Park Plaza of yore, New York’s Financial District in all its glory where the Towers once stood strong and Liberty could be felt.  Although I’m not sure why this Park was ever dubbed “Liberty”, maybe for Liberty Street?   

Why did Mr. Zuccotti and his team at Brookfield Properties insist on a name change from Liberty Park Plaza and will he want to go down in history for his role as OWS’s landlord, tolerant of their presence yet pushing for their removal by enforcement? Will the name Zuccotti Park forever be tainted with images and stories about the health, legal, and safety threats the authorities said this particular OWS camp posed to the public at large?  This rather than the cause that actually inspired the Occupy Wall Street movement and other camps to subsequently form in cities across the U.S. in national protest?   

So far, the news media has focused on the logistics of the Camp, the occupation itself, the costs to taxpayers, law enforcement and the legal and removal strategies of the City authorities. Now that the occupation’s over, I’d like to see more stories about the core message in the protest and the rallying cry against the financial establishment, for it was strong and passionate enough to inspire similar “Occupy” protests throughout the nation. I’d like to see Mr. Zuccotti, for whom the Park is named, going head to head in a nightly news roundtable discussion with an OWS operations official. 

How did Mr. Zuccotti get private money to renovate the Park after 9/11?  What were the goals of the renovation and how was Zuccotti Park designed to function as public space? 

This was an $8M renovation by a prestigious firm which installed trees, granite sidewalks, tables and seating as well as in-ground lighting.  It seems like as good a place as any for an urban camp. While the granite is hard as a sleeping surface, it’s great for outdoor cooking and the tables are conducive to networking discussions, training, interviews, chess, dining and computing – all things that make for a successful protest.

The Occupiers will find it hard to be removed but they might be more comfortable if they can go home to a good night’s sleep and a meal and prepare properly for the days and nights of protesting ahead.  Or is the movement made stronger by the camp itself and the community it fostered among its inhabitants? Camps are powerful structures when it comes to group cohesion, defense, protection and taking a stand.

I’m following updates and Tweets on these developments from the New York Times City Room and WNYC news among others. These seem to indicate that the City and Brookfield say that while the Camp must go (and has) the protests may continue.  Now that camp’s over, perhaps the news media will no longer focus on camp logistics and we’ll get to the meat of the story with investigations now turning towards the reasons for the protest and what, if any, are the key messages behind Occupy Wall Street.

BE AFRAID: BE VERY AFRAID
by Liana Hawes

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A TRICKY CLIENT LIGHTS UP THE VILLAGE ON HALLOWEEN
As the agency of record for the New York City’s 39th  Annual Village Halloween Parade, Gutenberg Communications was privy to work with organizers of one of the world’s most famous and longstanding public events that makes Greenwich Village a top international destination on  the scariest night of the year.  Billed as “the nation’s most wildly creative public participatory event,” and “New York’s Mardi Gras,” the New York Village Halloween Parade, now in its 39th year, typically attracts approximately 2 million attendees – and that’s not counting Parade participants! Like no other public event in the world (well maybe Burning Man), the Parade constantly makes the “bucket list” of things to do before you kick.  So who actually shows ups and what sorts of public relations challenges does it present?  

WHO SHOWS UP?
About 50,000 participants including hundreds of giant puppets, artists with explosive imaginations, thousands of New Yorkers in costumes of their own creation, dancers of all styles and more than 50 bands show up to be in the Parade. Talk about photo opportunities! That’s not to mention the 450 “media” who registered online this year for a Press Pass so they could join in and cover the Parade en route from the inside.- A contingent of NYPD officers are on Parade duty that night as are big crews from NY 1 and WPIX which station their production trucks to capture a live broadcast of the Parade as it s makes its way through the Greenwich Village up Avenue of the Americans from Soho to Chelsea.

PR CHALLENGES
Pointing press to the event highlights can be incredibly difficult when your line-up includes: the Incredible Hulk, the Mad Hatter, Roving Eyeballs, decked out Mini-Coopers, Chubaka, flying snakes, giant dragons, the rock band KISS, Little Red Riding Hood, Spiderman, drag queens and kings, Pirate Bluebeard, Princess Diana, Jagermeister skeletons, the Abominable Snowman, WonderWoman, robots and thousands of witches, ghosts and ghouls – just to name of tiny few of those available for photo opportunities.  Bigfoot also showed up this year as did Obama, who appeared many times throughout the line-up violently wielding a budget ax.

PRE-EVENT PHOTO AND STORY OPPS
Each year, in keeping with tradition, the Parade is headed by an ever-changing menagerie of Giant Puppets and special costumed performances. This entourage provides the kernel of inspiration that sparks the creative energies of the other 50,000 Parade participants. We try to engage media to attend one of the scheduled workshops and locations where the Parade’s giant puppets are built and created by master puppet artists.  Media can go to the workshops to engage in this wonderful process and meet with the artists.  Technicians responsible for these puppets work throughout the summer and fall in many locations around the Greater New York City area, Upstate New York, New Jersey, Boston, Cleveland and the North East. These workshops are busy designing and fabricating new creations to fulfill the changing themes of each new Parade. Some 600 volunteers from the local communities and from New York City assist in the various stages of building, assembling and operating the puppets and costumes. 

THEME
Communicating about enterprise software, venture capital and IT services can be downright scary at times but here’s a more daunting PR challenge:  Each year the Parade has an artistic theme set by master puppet and pageantry artists Alex Kahn and Sophia Michahelles of Superior Concept Monsters, the Parade’s official puppeteers. The chosen theme is based on oral history, socio-political concerns, myth and tradition. The overarching, grand-view messages behind their large-scale puppet creations are not exactly easy to convey in words to journalists who have become more accustomed to sound bites and simplified bullet points.  This year’s 2011 theme, “The i of the Beholder,” explores what makes the disembodied EYE so disturbing and familiar. Tradition associates the all-seeing eye with inescapable power and authority – coldly remote, yet as near to us as the back of a dollar bill. (sounds like a few clients we know:)  As Kahn and Michalles put it, “The technology of Facebook and Flickr offers us the possibility of seeing everything, we risk seeing nothing but ourselves, eyes wide shut, in a collective feast of Narcissism. Argus, for all his vigilance, is slain by Hermes (God of Communication), and for his sacrifice, is turned into a peacock.”  For this year’s Parade, video images of a close-up eye were projected onto a “Great Eyeball high in the Parade sky, in a succession of images at once intimate and anonymous.” This was beautifully executed visually at the front of the Parade. While hard to encapsulate into a sound bite or bullet point in our preliminary press, it was great to be able to point journalist to actual visuals – moving giant puppets processing up 6th Avenue and as they were coming to life at the puppet workshops.  

PRESS CHECK-IN: OH JOY!
Over 450 “journalists” registered for media passes to the Parade this year.  Last year it was about 250. Anyone who registers at the Parade’s Online Press and Media Center as “press” must check-in on-site at the Press Table starting at the Parade starting point at 2pm on All Hallow’s Eve. We issue official NYC Parade press badge badges to anyone who took this action or. The majority of registrants are freelance photographers who have agreed to submit their photos to the Parade Photo Gallery at the Parade’s official website. This, in return for a pass to cover the Parade from an insider’s vantage point.  Many stragglers with cameras, who did not take the time to register, nor have any press credentials, still show up requesting a badge.  In addition, several credentialed media on assignment showed up and checked in. This year they hailed from outlets including Barron’s, the Associated Press, Reuters TV, the BBC, Agence France, The Daily News and others on a mission to capture and file photos and reports by deadline that night.  The credentialed are approved and their laminated NYC press badges are enough to ward off the NYPD who are empowered to promptly non-badged photographers from the lineup. But other bloggers, photographers who are neither credentialed nor took the time to register are sometimes left hanging.  It’s tough being a gatekeeper on this massive media event.

CRAZED SPOKESPEOPLE
The Parade steps off at 7 p.m. on Halloween and media typically arrive to start their reporting at approximately 6:30 p.m. at which time they ask for spokesperson interviews. Now, there are three official spokespersons including the creatives, Kahn and Michalles and our key spokesperson, the Parade’s Producing Director and national Celebration Artists Ms. Jeanne Fleming, who has a legacy with the Parade, and is  one of the most electrifying clients and dynamic spokespeople a publicist could ever hope to work with.  At the bewitching hour when most journalists want their interviews, however, all three spokespeople are crazily busy dealing with any number of things that could go wrong (and never do). Puppet artists can speak eloquently about their creations but they are so busy rigging the giant puppets and organizing teams of handlers it’s hard to find them let alone nail them down for interviews.  Ms. Fleming is on a 2-way radio with the NYPD police chiefs, head marshals, drivers, bands, crowd control specialists, sponsors and VIPs so she’s a bit hard to nail down for interviews. This whole scenario has forever changed our view how to wrangle for interviews at an event.

OCCUPY WALL STREET IS COMING?!
“A spokesperson from Occupy Wall Street said a contingent of 500 Occupiers be showing up to march in the Parade. Can you confirm that?” a reporter with a major metropolitan daily asks.  “No, but anyone is welcome to join the Parade If they are in costume.”  The tradition of the Village Halloween Parade is to invite everyone in costume to join the parade — and typically 50,000 to 60,000 people take advantage of that invitation every year!  Most of these are costumed celebrants on foot. As the nation’s most wildly creative public participatory event and the greatest City in the world, anyone and everyone in COSTUME is welcome.  Safety and enjoyment come first. Parade organizers, therefore, ask all participants (including those from Occupy Wall Street) to keep the spirit and tradition of the Village Halloween Parade alive and abide by these simple rules. So the word went out: Get Your Costume Together! 

CONTROL FREAKS BACK DOWN
Once the Parade gets underway we lose our authority, power and control as PR gatekeepers, and follow our natural inclination to keep watch beside the broadcast production trucks of NY 1 and WPIX where crews are set up and directors calling the shots, keeping the parade moving despite the many photographers who hold up the procession as masqueraders pose for their cameras.  It’s hard to distinguish between the officials from those who are costumed like them.  It’s chaos at the very hour when the world of the living and the dead can supposedly see through to the other. As the Parade processes, we resume our role as ushers and facilitators in a massive public procession that has a mind and spirit of its own. We watch the procession move with the powers that be:  Frankenstein families, pirates, dead presidents, super heroes, monsters, ghouls, ghosts, witches, Tea Parties, Budget Axes and other creatures of the night. To stand and watch: now that’s a tall order when you’re a bunch of control-freakish PR people.  The next day’s results hit national and international outlets and the stories, blogs and photos all publish in a wicked PR Brew!

An Evening of Philanthropy, Tech and Celebrities
by Tracy Rodrigues

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This month Gutenberg had the pleasure of supporting the US launch of The Cherie Blair Foundation’s Mentoring Women in Business Programme. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair opened the evening with remarks on his wife’s passionate support of women across the globe. His comments were followed by a panel moderated by ABC News anchor Christiane Amanpour with Melanne Verveer, US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Nikesh Arora, Senior Vice-President, Google and Aeneas Chuma, UNDP Resident Representative, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Kenya.

In addition to the dignitaries, press and potential donors, other noteworthy guests were in attendance. Mentees from emerging countries in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East came to the event and lest anyone forget, it was really their story to be told that evening.

The Foundation’s mentoring platform is powered by Google. Mentees use Gchat, Gmail and Google docs to connect with their mentors in other countries and gain practical business advice. Given the different geographic locations and time zones these partnerships span, Google’s tools are a valuable and conveniently free resource. The program is unique for its focus on emerging markets and women that have already established businesses in their communities. The Foundation is empowering women with the drive to succeed simply by giving them the resources to do so.

Also interesting is the mentors themselves. It may be the effects of attending a women’s college, but I couldn’t help notice how many of the mentors were men. This was brought up later in the panel discussion and the question was met with brutal honesty. Why men? Because they generally have more resources and are more successful. While the event highlighted the needs of other countries, the panel discussion brought home the challenges the UK and US now face.  How can we empower our own women to succeed in technology and business?

The event gained attention from CNN’s new show Erin Burnett Outfront, Entrepreneurship Magazine and Bloomberg, among others who were in attendance. Congratulations to Cherie, The Foundation and Google on a successful US program launch!

If you’re interested in learning more about The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women or becoming a mentor please visit:  www.cherieblairfoundation.org

Pay-to-Play Editorial: The New Norm?
by Susie Hayne

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The public relations profession has undergone many changes since its inception in the early 1900s, when it was viewed as “engineering of consent,” defined as the art of manipulating people. Over the course of the 20th century, public relations practitioners worked hard to overcome that perception and prove our place in the business world by establishing credibility with journalists and building relationships to enhance the umbrella field that is communications, and ultimately to provide unbiased editorial content to consumers. Yet in today’s Internet-connected, social media-heavy world of communications, the landscape is changing and more and more publications are moving away from a relationship-driven model to a pay-for-play editorial model.

I was recently told by the editor of a publication their editorial focus is “unique in the sense that the majority of our coverage is either directly or indirectly tied to advertising.” Knowing that, how can you be sure when you pick up that publication that the information you are getting is REALLY the best on that topic if they willingly leave out reputable sources that maybe cannot afford to advertise in the publication?

Even Newsweek, a publication that still falls into the rare category of more than 1.5 million subscribers, has said that the Internet has changed everything, and not necessarily for the better. In that same article economist Joseph Schumpeter calls the advent of the Internet “creative destruction,” sweeping away everything in the media landscape as we knew it. 

The proliferation of the Internet and social media has slashed publication advertising dollars, leading to publishing houses being forced to cease print publications, eliminate test labs and lower head counts – all of which drastically change the practice of public relations. With a smaller revenue stream publications are being forced to look at alternate ways to stay in business and the trend of accepting pay-for-play editorial content, in this PR practitioner’s humble opinion, is a giant step backward, washing away all of the blood, sweat and tears that our PR forefathers have shed to pave the way for unbiased, honest editorial content that consumers can trust.

Tweetalee Dee, Tweetalee Dumb
by Joanna Leis

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It looks like the Pittsburgh Steelers are repeat offenders.  James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley sure know how to put their feet in their mouths when it comes to tweeting: Harrison called his boss an idiot for the new Pittsburgh Steelers Rule, and Woodley was non-apologetic for hitting too hard. Yes, hitting is part of the game, but as Kevin Allen of Ragan’s PR Daily says: “With the NFL going through PR hell right now, with its plague of severe head injuries and the current lockout, tweets like this are the last thing it needs.” It seems as if these players forgot that they are not only the faces of the Steelers, but they are also the faces of the NFL as well. What they say and do impacts the organization.

In my previous post, I talked about the BronxZoosCobra tweeter and how he or she successfully turned a crisis into an opportunity. The comedic tone made the BronxZoosCobra’s tweets successful. But in certain instances, humor does not work and should not be used. The tone of the situation must match the tone of the tweets. A misguided use of “humor” can cause a crisis of its own.

For example, Gilbert Gottfried, a famous comedian most recently known as the voice behind the duck of Aflac is now recognized for making a very famous mistake. He tweeted jokes about Japan’s tsunami during the midst of the crisis, stating “Japan is really advanced. They don’t go to the beach. The beach comes to them” as well as another tweet that is just too appalling to rewrite.  Making fun of people while they are in distress isn’t nice, and it’s bad business sense. His tweets were offensive to many and as a result, he was fired from Aflac.

Another example is Kenneth Cole; his tweets on the situation in Egypt damaged his company’s reputation which was known for its professional appeal.

These attempts of humor on Twitter have caused damage to these individuals’ reputations. They may have also caused damage to the companies’ brands, but that’s something only time will tell.

When you represent an organization, you need to monitor what you say and do at all times. With social media there is no separation between company and personal time. As PR Professionals, it is our responsibility to remind our clients that everything they say, write and do is under the scrutiny of the organizations’ constituents, especially if they are the face of the company, a spokesperson or a famous football player.

With the expansion and increased use of social media PR Professionals need to provide counsel on both the corporate and private aspects of spokespeople lives. PR Professionals can work with their clients/organizations to protect their reputations by:

  • Having integrated access to all public social media accounts (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
  • Monitoring conversations within social networks
  • Consistently advising clients on what to and most importantly what NOT to say

PR Professionals need to have a say in everything that is publicly stated, for they are the guards of corporate reputations and can only remain to be so if they have full access to all communication channels.

Do the Math
by Hugh Burnham

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In a Forbes Blog Post on Friday, (and I don’t blame Forbes, I credit the publication for having such great blog content)  the London Bureau Chief, picks on Burson-Marsteller for taking on  “unsavory clients” in the wake of the revelation that they are working on attacking privacy issues for Google.

This post left me scratching my head.  With so many similar articles out did it occur to anyone why PR firms often get hired? It is often BECAUSE their clients are in unsavory positions or they have thorny issues to tackle!!!  PR firms have been doing this kind of work since the industry was created. Only occasionally, when it’s a big (or in this case) two big high profile companies, does it become a big deal.

Burson, while it is now forced to backtrack and tell the world that this is against its ethical policies to not disclose their client, is hardly the first PR firm to have its own PR issues.   PR firms do this all the time.  When I worked at one of the world’s largest PR firms, we were booted out of the American Lung Association after a week when it was discovered that we were simultaneously representing a large tobacco manufacturer.    And Wal-Mart’s former PR firm Edelman was taken to task for having PR people pose as “bloggers” while spreading a great message of how wonderful the company was.

Amongst the “shocking” details revealed in the Forbes post is that Burson has a “reputation” for representing this kind of client.  The list included the Saudi government after 9/11, Romanian dictator Nicholae Ceausescu and the Argentinian junta after the disappearance of 35,000 civilians, amongst other things.   But this is why PR firms get hired. So they can represent these companies or governments’ best interests. 

No one would point the finger at a law firm that represented these clients, would they?  And if you looked at other large PR firms, they surely are representing clients with similar issues.   Why the finger pointing?   What is it about the media that just makes it so simple to muck rake for no reason? While it might not be 100% savory to think that companies attack other companies with widespread PR campaigns, you had better believe it happens all the time.  They just aren’t Google and Facebook, most of the time.

A Fog Of War
by Hugh Burnham

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Nine years and seven months since I watched the World Trade Center towers fall from the edge of Bowling Green in Lower Manhattan, Osama Bin Laden was killed in a covert operation by the U.S. Military in Abbotabad Pakistan.

Then came the real murder. In the press.  Late on Sunday night, after leaking the news to the American media, President Barack Obama addressed the nation to give us the official version of how Bin Laden died.

It was a masterful example of perception management, the ultimate spin job. Obama gave us some facts about the mission – including a pat on the back for Pakistan (the country that the U.S. mistrusted so much it preferred to create a specially modified Black Hawk helicopter that could fly undetected by radar) for their help in catching our bad guy.

Here’s what we were told.  Bin Laden lived in a “million dollar mansion” (it cost $48,000 to buy six years ago). He was heavily armed (he wasn’t). He hid behind a female human shield (he didn’t). Never let facts get in the way of a good story.  

The White House’s account of the raid that killed Bin Laden has undergone so many iterations in the past week – a fact attributable, according to White House press secretary Jay Carney, to a “fog of war.”  It’s doubtful that a “fog of war” really accounts for the many inaccuracies and outright untruths reported on by the White House.

In a White House briefing, Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Expert John Brennan insisted that “If we had the opportunity to take Bin Laden alive, if he didn’t present any threat, the individuals involved were able and prepared to do that.”   And later, the White House told us that Bin Laden, while unarmed, acted in a “threatening manner.”  The White House had a lot of dancing to do, in order to ensure that the raid seemed not only legal, but ethical. 

In the end, reporters got annoyed at the backtracking, but the White House had a lot of room for forgiveness. They had after all, killed the man who had perpetrated the worst attack on U.S. soil ever.  Details that might have been a big problem if more had gone wrong, or the results had played out differently were largely overlooked.   That’s how the media works. 

Snake on the Town (or How One Person Found Opportunity in a Crisssssis)!
by Joanna Leis

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Most people aren’t fond of snakes. But 238,395 tweeters love the New York City’s Bronx Zoo Cobra. The zoo temporarily lost one of its Egyptian cobras last week and an anonymous and extremely creative, astute person made the snake reappear on the popular social networking site, Twitter. The snake, which took on the name @BronxZoosCobra, was busy tweeting away its fictional NYC tour.

The snake’s hilarious updates won over fellow tweeters; so much that it garnered the attention of traditional media. This innovative idea has brought on great opportunity for the snake impersonator. The New York Times and TIME have already interviewed the person behind the snake.  And who knows what else is in store, maybe a TV interview or book deal? Or maybe even a job as a professional tweeter for the Bronx Zoo?

There is much we can learn from this impersonator. He or she was able to take a crisis and turn it into an opportunity. Clearly, all crises cannot be transcended into opportunities. One crisis does not fit all, which is why much care and forethought must be brought in when choosing to use a crisis for opportune purposes. An unsuccessful attempt, described in my colleague’s post, was made by Kenneth Cole earlier this year. In the case of Kenneth Cole, he was using the situation in Egypt to promote his spring collection. This is what put people off and turned the situation into a PR nightmare.

The crisis referenced and opportunity at hand has to align with the organization. Picking the wrong crisis can have monumental consequences that can negatively impact a corporate or individual’s reputation. PR Professionals need to first think of the business objective and see if the opportunity would help meet this end.

The BronxZoosCobra is a good case study to examine as it successfully exhibits turning a crisis into an opportunity.

When appropriate, you can also turn a crisis into an opportunity by:

  • Keeping abreast of current events and understanding your industry- Constantly review the news, social media and newest trends. Some crises happen immediately and others happen over time. As a PR Professional, you should keep yourself aware of what’s going on. That way you will know when and how to react. The snake impersonation would have never worked if it was done after the snake was caught.
  • Understanding the severity of the situation at hand- Different situations call for different things. Make sure what you do is appropriate and is right for your organization. Be sure that the tone is on point and represents the sensitivity of the situation. The BronxZoosCobra twitter account worked because the snake was only missing. If the snake had escaped and bit a child then this idea probably wouldn’t have been suitable.  If the crisis is severe it is best for a qualified organization to take on the role of a thought leader or advisor. During an overwhelming crisis organizations should use discretion and not engage in over self promotional activities.
  • Being thoughtful – Know what will work for your industry and look for opportunities to be creative. Don’t self-aggrandize but ask what will catch people’s attention? What will make you, or what your organization has to say, stand out? Think of how to communicate in a way so that will resonate in peoples’ minds. Taking on an identity of a snake online is certainly a unique and memorable way of getting your voice heard.
  • Targeting the right audience- Who are you trying to reach and why? What perspective or advice can you offer them and why would they be interested in it? What is the benefit to this audience? Once an appropriate audience has been identified, the PR Professional then has to understand where this audience gets their information. Is it traditional media: print, radio, or TV? Or is it social media: Twitter, Facebook or Linked-In? One of the fastest and easiest ways for the snake impersonator to get his or her voice heard was through social media. Twitter provided the medium to tell a funny relevant story as well as reach a broad audience.

So the next time a crisis arises, don’t only think of how to manage it but also think of how to leverage it. And pay attention! Look at your competition’s crises and see if you can use their messes to your advantage. Who knows, if done right you can end up being a local or national sensation.

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