Arthur Solomon, Public Relations Consultant
There are many tenets of our business with which I disagree. One that’s near the top of my list is that when a client has a PR crisis, the Merlins of our business, known as PR crises specialists, have all the solutions to the problems.
Even though history shows that not only does a client with a PR crisis remain in crisis until the media or the government says “the problem has been resolved,” but even when that happens the crisis become part of the individual’s or entity’s DNA and can resurface at any time, which happens quite frequently, when the crisis becomes part of a news story about some other new crisis.
PR books list many of these dubious tenets. Just to name a few that are on the top of my list: pitches should be limited to one or two lines, nothing longer; getting out ahead of the story can diminish negative coverage; and an immediate reply to a PR crisis is necessary.
But one true tenet that is never discussed is that “bad news is often good news for our business,” especially if you’re in the PR crisis business.
March has been a bonanza for PR crises specialists, with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft being caught in a sex sting, singer R. Kelly losing his cool during a TV interview and the news that 50 people have been charged in a $25 million college entrance exam cheating scandal. If these individuals have not already retained crises specialists, chances are they have been bombarded with proposals.
In what reads like a script for a movie, an FBI investigation uncovered the scam, using a code name of Operation Varsity Blues.
Indeed, if a movie based on the scam is made, the lead actors may not need any rehearsals because among those charged are two talented actresses, Lori Loughlin, who was in the 1980s-90s sitcom “Full House,” and Felicity Huffman, the award-winning star of film, stage and tv, perhaps best known for the 2004-12 hit show “Desperate Housewives.” Huffman’s husband, actor William H. Macy, also would be a natural for a leading role, even though he was not charged.
A sub plot for a possible movie would be that the stars’ usual PR people might be replaced by PR crises experts, who would charge a fortune without getting the desired results. And that would be factual. Maybe instead of a movie, a documentary should be made. (There’s a valuable lessons that young PR people should learn from this scenario: When things go wrong, a client is apt to blame the PR person and demand a change, even if the PR person has not done anything wrong.)
Thus far, March has provided valuable lessons for PR people:
- Despite the best efforts of PR people, if you have a client in a PR crisis, there is nothing you can do to prevent negative coverage.
- The more important a client is, the greater the coverage will be during a crisis.
- During a PR crisis, a media savvy lawyer is more important than a savvy PR person.
- And names make the news, especially if it is bad news.
Late last month, during his Congressional testimony, Michael Cohen said that President Trump said he would sue entities that released his grades at
Cohen told the House Oversight Committee, “When I say conman, I’m talking about a man who declares himself brilliant but directed me to threaten his high school, his colleges and the College Board to never release his grades or SAT scores.”
Hmm. Makes one wonder.
About the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the