“Who am I to Judge?” – The Pope, Gays and the Church
July 15, 2013
By David E. Johnson, CEO, Strategic Vision
The verdict in the George Zimmerman case came in on Saturday. As everyone knows, he was acquitted in the killing of Trayvon Martin. If ever there was a case that made use of public relations to define people’s attitudes, it was this case. Originally, 62% of Americans believed that Zimmerman was guilty based on the images that they saw and what they heard in the media, a poll a year ago showed. As the trial began, those numbers changed and we saw a divide on racial lines with African-Americans believing he was guilty and whites believing he was innocent. Nobody involved in the case came out as a winner. Now there is a great need for crisis communications for all involved—the trial lawyers, the state of Florida, and George Zimmerman himself.
The first thing for all of them is to develop a crisis communications plan that will be put into effect and conveying the key messages that are needed. Next they must not give into a tendency to have a knee jerk reaction or off the cuff remark. Everyone involved in the plan needs to know what their role is and how they must carry it out.
Zimmerman never took the witness stand. His voice has been largely silent as, his family, his lawyers, and friends have carried forth the public relations battle. Now he needs to speak. Lawyers may not want him too, because of the threat of federal action and the ongoing civil lawsuit. I would recommend that he does.
An interview with Oprah. It will be hard as we saw with Lance Armstrong but it could change many people’s opinion about Zimmerman and soften his image. Answer every question. Express sympathy for the family’s lost of Trayvon Martin but state the case again of what happened. He should denounce every form of racism in the interview.
State of Florida
The State of Florida and its judicial system suffered a black eye in this case. Many believe that the prosecution was racially motivated. Others are stunned and have lost faith in the State after it was revealed that the State withheld evidence to the defense. Firing the state employee who revealed that, hours before the verdict was reached did nothing to allay these concerns. African-Americans believe that the justice system betrayed them.
The Defense Lawyers
Many criticized the defense lawyers for being somewhat heavy handed with some witnesses and also there was the infamous ice cream cone photo of the one lawyer. Their job is the easiest.
In addition to the crisis communications, it also provides an opportunity in public relations. President Obama burst onto the political scene in 2004 with his famous speech saying, “there is no blue America, there is no red, America, there is only the United States of America.” He has a rare opportunity now to give a similar speech on race in America and the rule of the law. He has been accused of avoiding racial issues during his term. Now he has a rare chance to communicate a truly post racial vision of America, by saying—there is no white America, there is no black America, there is no Asian America, or Latino America, there is only the United States of America for all citizens.
David E. Johnson is the CEO of Strategic Vision, LLC, a public relations and branding agency that specializes in crisis communications, branding, and media relations. Additional information on Johnson and Strategic Vision, LLC may be obtained at www.strategicvision.biz.
I’m sick and tired of all the bad ideas and strategies I’ve heard from some of my clients and the clients of fellow publicists. I figured I would redirect my frustration by sharing with you the top 10 things anyone working with a publicist needs to understand.
Yes, I’m being blunt, but I’m doing it with the best intentions to keep you from making stupid mistakes that will cost you interviews or, worse, your credibility.
1. No, we can’t ask for the questions ahead of time.
I will never, ever, ever ask a reporter or TV producer for the questions they plan on asking in your interview ahead of time. So don’t ask me. It will make you and me both look like idiots. If you want to completely undermine your expert status and credibility, go ahead and ask for the questions yourself. You’re supposed to be the authority on your topic, and that’s why the media is talking to you. They expect you to be able to handle anything they throw at you. Asking for the questions tells them otherwise. While we’re at it, no, I also won’t annoy the busy reporter by asking when the story will run. Of course I’ll be happy to check in with him or her after some time has passed.
2. You’re probably not going to get on the “Today” show, so stop asking.
It’s still laughable to me whenever a client asks, “When will you get me on the ‘Today’ show?” The reality: If you and your topic are a good fit for “Today,” know that I am pitching “Today” and other similar shows. Also realize that just because I have put other people on “Today” and similar national TV shows, that doesn’t mean I can automatically place you there. Yes, my relationships and credibility with producers will help somewhat, but only to a point. The competition is extremely fierce at that level, and although breaking in is possible, it won’t happen for some people.
3. Stop telling me you don’t care about local TV.
If you don’t care about local TV and are interested only in national TV, you’re an idiot. If I hook a national TV producer on the idea of having you as a guest, the first question he or she will ask me is, “Does this person have any other television experience?” Local TV helps lead to national TV, plus it’s still major credibility in its own right. When someone looks you up on the Internet, what do you want them to see: only things you’ve written or produced about yourself, or credible TV interviews with you, even if they are on local TV?
4. You’re probably not going to sell a lot of books.
Unless you name is John Grisham or James Patterson, don’t expect to sell a lot of books from appearing in the media, and don’t ask me how many books you’re going to sell. You might sell millions. You might sell none. The one thing I’ve learned about forecasting book sales is that there is no good way to forecast book sales. Being in the media is about building credibility through a third-party implied endorsement, not about selling books. It’s about leveraging your media coverage to help build multiple income streams. Your book might turn out to be one of those streams, but it is more likely to help you earn other income than to be a major profit center in its own right.
5. This isn’t a short-term strategy.
People call my office and say, “Can I hire you for a month?” The answer is no, because you can’t do this for one month and expect to get big-time results. If you want to hire someone for a month, hire someone else who is happy to take your money and doesn’t care about disappointing you and undermining their own reputation. Publicity is a long-term strategy that takes time and the ability to develop new story angles and play off current events. Those events will happen, but they might not coincidentally happen during the first few weeks. Just as you might advertise for the life of your business, publicity should be approached the same way to continue to build your credibility.
6. Your product, book, or service isn’t going to change the world.
I believe in my clients and their messages. I really do. Otherwise I wouldn’t be representing them. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “The media is going to eat this up! This is really going to change lives! It’s a ‘game changer’!” I believe in you, but I hear it every day. Take a step back, and understand that the competition for precious minutes of TV time or inches of print is fierce. Although you probably have a very good idea, it’s not the only one out there, and just because you and I think it’s good, you can’t expect every media outlet to agree.
7. Stop wasting your time with expensive press releases.
You don’t need a publicist to write a press release and distribute it through a service such as PR Newswire or BusinessWire. You can do that yourself. Most press releases are self-serving and contain no news value. If you still want to pay these companies a lot of money to have your release lost in a sea of press releases so nothing much comes of it, I’m happy to help. I just think there are better ways for you to spend your money.
8. Excuse me for trying to make you interesting.
Sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it. You might be the expert of all experts in your field, but if you’re boring, nobody is going to care. My favorite example of what I’m saying is my client Steve Siebold’s book, “Die Fat or Get Tough: 101 Differences in Thinking Between Fat People and Fit People.” His premise: If you’re fat, it’s your fault. That one phrase has resonated on television show after television show all over the world. Of course, he also has plenty of useful but more mundane advice like “eat better and exercise more.” But if he led with that, do you think he would have been featured all over the world? Nope. Spice it up!
9. Lack of results isn’t always the publicist’s fault.
With anyone I work with, have previously worked with or will one day work with, I give it my all, 100 percent dedication and commitment to doing the best I can. But after all, I’m selling you and your message. I’ve worked with really strong messages and others that aren’t as solid. If you’re not getting the media coverage you believe you’re entitled to, don’t always blame your publicist, but instead take a look at the goods you’re bringing to the table. Not all clients are created equal. Having said that, though, I won’t take a client whose message I don’t think I can sell.
10. I don’t care what your branding strategist or social media team is doing.
Many of my clients and the clients of other publicists have independent branding consultants, advertising teams, internal marketing people, and social media teams they work with as well. Though I’m always happy to jump on a call with them or hear what they’re up to, it’s usually a big waste of time and doesn’t concern me. I don’t care how many Facebook and Twitter messages your social media team is putting out; I care only about generating a lot of media coverage for you to help you build a massive amount of credibility that you can leverage forever.
Bruce Serbin is president and CEO of Serbin Media, Inc. His work has been recognized by the Associated Press, League of American Communications Professionals and the Public Relations Society of America.