Terms of Media Engagement

Rep Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)

California wingnut Rep. Darrell Issa canned his PR guy today. The infraction? Sharing with a New York Times reporter emailed correspondence the press rep had with other reporters. Dumb!

While the nature of the content of these emails remains unknown, the notion of letting one reporter in on another’s plans or interests remains a major no-no in PR-dom. I mean how many times have you had to advise a client to NOT share specifics of his or her interactions with another news organization?


Conversely, it’s likely a bigger no-no to book your client on NBC “Today” without advising the booker that the client just pre-taped a segment on ABC’s GMA. This lack of disclosure will effectively end whatever relationship you’ve built with Today, and likely GMA too. So how can a mild-mannered publicist ensure that he’s not biting off the media hand that feeds him?

A good rule of thumb is to inform your editorial contact that she’s not alone in securing an interview with your client, BUT with several caveats:

  • Only reveal that other interviews were conducted…IF ASKED. Do not volunteer as a conversation-starter the fact that your client just conducted a round of interviews. Maybe the reporter doesn’t care or believes your client is so newsworthy, it doesn’t really matter that he/she has done other interviews. Think Charlie Sheen.
  • When and if you are asked about other interviews, be forthcoming, but DO NOT reveal BY NAME the other media outlets with which your client has met. If pressed, simply say that your client is meeting with another “newsweekly” or “network morning show.” If pressed harder for a name, ask the inquisitive editor, reporter, booker or producer whether she would like you to share the name of her news org with the others. That should end the conversation.
  • Finally, never ever characterize one outlet to another as being more important or influential. This is another excellent way to terminate a once-fruitful relationship. No reporter wants to be told that his employer is lower in the media pecking order (even though deep down he may know it). All outlets should be given equitable treatment, though not necessarily equitable access.

Anyway, back to Darrell Issa’s press rep. It’s unclear that this numbnut faced any of the scenarios outlined above. In fact, it appears that the firing was more political than anything else, i.e., Speaker Boehner learned that the press rep may have been assisting The Times reporter with some backgrounding on a forthcoming book and weighed in. (No love lost between Boehner and The Times.)

As for Charlie Sheen, I was glad to see Hollywood PR man Stan Rosenfeld resign the account. I worked with Stan back in my nascent days in the biz as an entertainment publicist. He was a pro then, and is certainly one now for distancing himself from the Charlie Sheen Bi-Polar Histrionics Media Tour.


  1. Agreed, Linda. Thanks for sharing. As for coverage that already has broken, one should be upfront with reporter/booker, but not flaunt it.  For stories in the works, I still do not think those other outlets would want their names revealed. Best to characxterize what else is happening, if asked, but not too specifically. 

  2. We have the good fortune of representing a client with a story that’s worthy of national media coverage on the level of the outlets you mentioned in your post. How have we navigated the booking our clients on these programs, without alienating the other outlets and made subsequent bookings even when key players and products have appeared already on competitor networks?

    First and foremost, we are honest brokers on behalf of our clients, never misleading anyone as to what coverage has already appeared or is slated to appear. Agreed that the best way to manage such questions is to be forthright but not explicit.

    A key to success is to not limit yourself by offering exclusives. A story that’s worthy of coverage at this level is, in my experience, never appropriate only to one outlet and to make such agreements merely limits the potential coverage for your client and their story, which is a bad business move for the flack and their agency.

    I’d posit that we’ve benefited from the fact that our client’s story was more feature-oriented, rather than a breaking news, and so there wasn’t undue pressure to cover the story NOW or miss the opportunity to do so. Ours is a multi-pronged story – fascinating medical technology meets heartwarming human-interest stories, all wrapped up in “cool” cutting edge science – and so the various networks’ morning shows were able to create their own stories, using different patients so it wasn’t a matter of them all covering the exact same angles of the story. 

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