Lessons from Miss California's PR Nightmare

By Kathleen A. Martin  |  Print this article Print


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Miss California Carrie Prejean escaped a complete public relations meltdown, but not without taking a few hits in the press. PR veteran Jerry Grasso offers solution providers advice on how to avoid catastrophe.

As the old saying goes, "There is no such thing as bad PR." While that may be the case for embattled Miss California Carrie Prejean, it’s not the case for solution providers and small businesses.

In the case of Miss California, Prejean first started catching flak for stating her belief in the traditional definition of marriage. Controversy erupted when racy photos of the beauty queen surfaced, which could have cost her, her crown. Donald Trump, owner of the Miss USA pageant, said he believes in second chances and will allow Prejean to keep her title.

While this is great news for Prejean, controversy and poor user experience don’t always bode well for solution providers. The slightest bit of bad publicity, especially in this age of instant public blogs and viral social networks, can be enough to cost a business its reputation and, consequently, its financial viability.

Jerry Grasso, a long-time public relations executive and current vice president of communications at Lexmark International, offers solution providers these insights for dealing with negative public relations.

Honesty Always
It is easier to start off honest and just admit your mistake. You posed for pictures before you knew it was bad. You took drugs before they were illegal. Whatever the case may be, just fess up and let the audience know you are honest and have remorse. They most likely will not let you off the hook, but this is the best place to start.

You Cannot Turn Lead into Gold
If you have done something that causes you to lose your tiara or a chance in the baseball hall of fame, you cannot spin the story from lead into gold. You must accept that some actions cannot be undone and you must accept the consequences. If you continue to sell a story that is not true (see Rule 1), you will continue to lose credibility with your audience.

Remember Your Audience
When we are in crisis mode, it is easy to forget who our target audience is. You may be interviewing with your local paper and not love the reporter. This reporter though will be responsible for the tone of your message as presented in their publication. Consider whom you are talking with and whom you want to reach with your message.

Grasso has a laminated sheet with his 12 golden rules of PR, lessons he learned from his first 10 years in public relations and communications. Always keep a communications plan prepared and outline your plans for crisis communications. When the heat is on, cooler heads prevail. It’s very important for your small business to have an expert on your side. Contracting a communications professional can assist you in getting out your message without looking defensive or one sided in the presentation.

It was a good week for Miss California and the Miss USA pageant. They have taken an event that normally loses steam 24 hours later and dragged it out to two solid weeks of keeping their names in front of the press. While they had teams of professionals ready to assist, your business can do the same with planning and careful execution.


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