Several weeks ago, a friend referred a client prospect who was embroiled in a headline-making PR imbroglio. The out-of-work man, who shall remain nameless, filed a lawsuit against a small mom & pop shop for non-delivery of services from more than a decade earlier. To make matters worse, the founder of the shop was a Holocaust survivor, a detail that emerged in a prominent story in the newspaper-of-record.
As many PR pros have come to understand, this colorful, antithetical newspaper piece prompted interest from some salacious segment producers at a couple of network TV magazine shows. The question he had for me: should he agree to do these interviews to try to set the record straight or should he ignore them altogether with the hope the whole mess will go away? More on this below.
The decision to avail oneself for an on-camera interview is a nuanced one. In the last week, we watched as Penn State perv Jerry Sandusky hail-Mary’ed himself for a four-hour, on-camera, on-the-record sit-down with The New York Times. We also witnessed the once down-and-out and now Iowa frontrunner Newt Gingrich sit for a love-fest with the Faux News Channel. And finally, we learned that 82-year-old Barbara Walters snagged a (Hail Allah) interview with Syria’s notorious, terrorist-supporting, and tenuous leader Bashar Al-Assad. (I wonder which PR firm facilitated that one?)
|Sandusky Talks to The Times|
Following the Sandusky-Times interview, we heard an outcry from PR and legal experts about just how fatalistic this unorthodox tack will turn out for Mr. Sandusky. Me, I’m not so sure. The lawyers will invariably err on the side of extreme caution, making the (not unreasonable) argument that whatever is publicly shared can (and will) be used in the court case.
I believe, however, that if the newsmaker is well-prepared, assertive and articulate, with supporting facts as back-up, a high-profile interview can produce a net-positive result in the court of public opinion, and perhaps with prospective jurors. Sandusky’s mistake was that he didn’t appear to have been adequately prepared, nor have credible answers to quell his accusers. He also could have applied some leverage by insisting that the final footage be posted unedited.
Most significantly, if the media world was Sandusky’s oyster, why did he opt for a tough Bob Costas followed by four hours with The New York Times? Where’s Larry King when you really need him?
|Gingrich on his Fave Network|
Separately veteran media manipulator Newt Gingrich also carries his share of negative baggage. I mean which is worse: frolicking in the shower with a young boy or frolicking with another woman while your wife lay dying? At least Newt’s handlers had the wisdom to have him chat it up with his friends at Fox, or was it Fox & Friends? The segment was a home run for the ethically challenged and disgraced former Speaker of the House.
|Bashar Gets Celeb Treatment|
As for the beleaguered Syrian president — who had the choice of virtually any U.S. journalist with which to espouse his POV — Mr. Assad chose ABC News veteran Barbara Walters who, in recent years, has put her share of A-list Hollywood celebrities on the hot seat during her highly rated pre-Oscar specials.
Nuf said here.
Now back to that litigious client prospect being chased by the TV magazine shows. I had two thoughts: The first was to have him lay low and ignore the media requests. The 24/7 news cycle will soon dissipate any interest in his story. The second idea, which I’m kinda liking better, is to have him agree to all the interviews (and more)….but for a counter-intuitive reason.
He should forgo trying to mount a successful public defense of his position on television. The segment already is written in stone, and the questions he’ll be asked — every which way but up — will only serve to support the predetermined story premise. RATHER, he should take/milk the interview for what it’s worth because in this cockamamie media culture, notoriety can breed opportunity. In other words, he’s got little to lose and much to gain. (BTW – I turned down the assignment.)