Thursday, February 03, 2011


I’m sorry. I really am, and I issue this apology on behalf of PR practitioners all over.
I was originally going to write a post saying that I wished more PR people had the guts to tell their clients to shut up, to just not say another word.
I was going to talk about how professional PR people are and how part of their job is to think about what words mean and how words impact the public’s perception of the client – whether that client is a person, company, group, product, or idea. I was going to say that clients need to listen to their PR people. I would have qualified that by saying that communication is a two way street and that PR people need to listen to clients to understand his/her/their needs.
Then it dawned on me that the glaring mistakes over the past couple of days are making the profession and its clients look bad. That’s why I’m apologizing.
For instance, South Carolina’s new Lt. Governor was questioned about how he used some of his campaign funds following his election. His response when questioned by the FREE TIMES was, “I’ll be honest, I’m not really good at dotting i’s and crossing t’s, but I’ve got a lot -- a lot -- of money in here and I’m certainly not spending any money on my own personal behalf.” According to the Columbia weekly he added, “I’ve got a vast amount of my personal wealth tied up in this campaign and I’m just trying to recoup as much of that as I can.”
Really? That’s the response? While my media friends absolutely hate my saying this, the lt. governor’s communications people should never have allowed the call to get through without prepping him first, and since the call did get through, someone should have said, “Governor, please quit speaking now.”
How about today’s gaffe from designer Kenneth Cole (
“Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at -KC,” according to the now deleted tweet.
Really? Egyptians are rioting, their president is on the verge of resigning and going in to exile, foreign media members are being beaten, and American citizens are being kidnapped and threatened at gunpoint as the United State’s military prepares to airlift them to safety. You go with a weak joke about riots being caused by your spring line? Seriously?
My hope is that the Cole tweet didn’t actually come from Mr. Cole. I hope it came from some low-level inexperienced fresh-out-of-college PR hopeful who should still have “making coffee” somewhere in his or her job description, and as boneheaded of a move as it was to tweet that, the hammer should drop on the senior-level PR person who put Little Miss or Mister Wet Behind the Ears in a position to control social media messaging just because he or she doesn’t yet get the fascination with MyFace or SpaceBook or TweetieBird or whatever social media outlets the Kenneth Cole brand is using to communicate.
So, that’s why I’m apologizing. I’m apologizing because there are a lot more of us who think about our clients, their brands, and public perception than there are of these glory-seeking wannabes who think they can step behind a podium and that gold will pour from their mouths with no effort when in reality they don't even understand what it is to do the job. Those of us who take our jobs seriously and who hold our clients’ faith in us as a trust allowed ourselves to get pwned by these bush league goof ups.
Now that the apologies are out of the way, here’s my advice:
  • First, realize that you have a brand. That brand may be you as an individual, a politician, a political candidate, a company or organization, or a thing. That brand’s success or failure is more often that not based on what people think, based on its image. Protect that image. Find a public relations professional who understands your needs and the job at hand. Find someone who will be honest with you but who will make sure you don’t get blindsided. Find someone who is a good fit with you or your organization but who doesn’t always say, “Yes,” just because you said it. Remember, a good PR person is about strategy in messaging, and sometimes that means questioning.
  • Second, realize that we no longer live by news cycles. You can generate news or deliver a response 24/7/365. That’s the news cycle now. It’s never ending.
  • Third, make sure your PR person understands that fax machines aren’t the preferred methods of distributing information. I’m taking that to the extreme, but your PR folks should know and be able to operate in an environment that allows information to be created and consumed through multiple channels, including and especially social media.
  • Fourth, Facebook isn’t for middle school girls. Social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and the like are viable and invaluable channels to communicate with your customers or constituents, investors, and media, and you have to be able to use those outlets to help manage your reputation.
  • Fifth, chances are your opposition already knows these things. If you or your PR people mess up, somebody will be there to capitalize on the situation, dilute your brand value, and work to increase their market share.
  • Sixth, this is just for South Carolina’s lieutenant governor. You can weather this storm, but you need to be brutally honest. Completely open your books and let the sunshine in. It may not be painless, but with the current damage done, your saving grace can and should be an abundance of transparency to keep your voters’ trust.
  • Seventh, this is for the folks at Kenneth Cole. Keep the interns away from your Twitter and other social media accounts. If Mr. Cole himself actually sent the tweet (which, since it ended in “KC” claims to be the case), please contract with public relations professionals who can handle those communications for you and help enhance your brand instead of playing defense. Make sure you apologize profusely, too. You goofed. Admit it and ask for forgiveness for a poorly-timed weak joke. Then apologize some more. People want contrition and will trust you more when they see it.
That’s it – my apology and some advice. The past two days provided cases in lessons learned from what to do to what not to do. Hopefully everyone is a little wiser, and we can move forward.
Oh, and hire a good PR person. He or she can save your brand.
UPDATE: It’s a start. Kenneth Cole issued an apology on his Facebook page saying, “I apologize to everyone who was offended by my insensitive tweet about the situation in Egypt. I’ve dedicated my life to raising awareness about serious social issues, and in hindsight my attempt at humor regarding a nation liberating themselves against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate. -- Kenneth Cole, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer.”

Taft Matney is a partner with TM Public Relations, a strategic communications and governmental affairs firm in Greenville, SC. Follow him on Twitter ( and "like" TMPR on Facebook (

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