In the World of PR, Liars Never Prosper

An article has been making the rounds today, a story about a PR person who may have horribly ruined her reputation, not just with one reporter, but far more as her story takes on an online life of its own via Peter Shankman.

Take a read through it and then we’ll keep talking.

As a long-time PR guy, there’s so much wrong here, but let’s start at the beginning. I’ll assume you read well, so I don’t need to repeat all the details.

  1. First off, the company rep booked the interview without first having a clear understanding with the reporter about the subject of the interview. That should have been done way in advance. It appears that person is identified as Madden’s Marketing Director, so she might not be as experienced in this area.  I’ll offer that as a slight “benefit of the doubt,” but another example of why a company needs an experienced person doing this kind of work. You wouldn’t ask your company attorney to set up your computer system, would you? Since she was acting in a “PR person” capacity, let’s refer to her that way for the duration.
  2. Next she told the reporter what questions she could and could not ask. That’s always a red flag for a journalist and a great way to get those “don’t ask” questions asked. Any CEO should be prepped in advance to answer any conceivable question, whether it’s expected or not.  That’s called “interview prep” and if your PR person isn’t doing that for you then you need a new one. Putting these kinds of guidelines on interviews isn’t a “best practice.” I often have clients ask “can I get the reporter’s questions in advance?” Well, I never ask a reporter for their questions, just about the general focus of their story.  A business writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explained his interview process to me once this way: “I ask my first question.  Based on the answer, I formulate my next question and so on.” So, the interview drives itself.  Not that there aren’t times when we want to keep an interview focused on a topic, but there’s a better way to do than what we see here.
  3. The biggest issue, of course, is when the PR person cancels the interview with an easily discernible lie. Why make up something about bad traffic when you know (or should know) that the reporter’s already en route. If you work in PR long enough you’re going to have an instance where a client or boss asks you to cancel an interview. Sometimes it’s just because they’re busy. Sometimes they’re not prepared (which, again, is the PR person’s fault). In any case, just be honest and cancel it.
  4. The PR person here couldn’t find a way to get the store manager to be complicit in her lie, so he was more than happy to bring the reporter to Madden, resulting in an embarrassing confrontation. (Gotta prep your accomplices, right?) When she’s face to face with the reporter is the time to fall on her sword, apologize, and try to salvage the relationship. She decides to go full hog the other way, ushering the reporter away and then even trying to block her from taking photos at a public event.
  5. Asking the reporter to email you the questions for your boss to answer? While that might work for some simple interviews or for background, most reporters won’t take that as the sole source for a story. The reporter was very gracious to even consider or allow this.
  6. The PR person calls the reporter back accidentally?  Really? Nuff said on that.

I’d love to hear the marketing person’s take on this story.  Was the reporter’s description accurate?

That bring us to the final (and ongoing) mistake. This story has been out for two days and the PR or marketing person in questions hasn’t responded anywhere that I can find.  She has what looks like an virtually inactive Twitter account and a non-public Facebook page.

From the reporter’s telling, the story would have been fairly positive, but we’ll never know!  It didn’t have to end this way.



1 Response to “In the World of PR, Liars Never Prosper”

  1. 1 Rodney Ho April 4, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    That reminds me of the time I got booted out of the green room right before Jennifer Hudson was supposed to talk to me. This was before she lost a lot of weight. A clearly photoshopped photo album cover had been all the buzz in recent days that made her look six sizes smaller. I planned to talk to her about that but when a PR person told me specifically NOT to after I got there, I got on the phone with her boss who proceeded to tell me that my interview would not happen. I was escorted out of the room. Ultimately, their idiocy gave me a better story:

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