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TGIM! On Bombs, Blogs and Communication Blunders – What PR Lessons Have We Learned?

Apr 22, 2013

On behalf of all Americans, let me loudly and publicly declare: TGIM!

While many Mondays are greeted with sluggish starts and long sighs on the way to the coffee machine, this Monday is different. Despite the above cathartic exclamation, for hundreds of thousands of Americans from New England to Texas, a new week begins yet a sense of true closure remains out of reach. The staccato of rapid-fire news bites continues to invade our inboxes, twitter feeds, web browsers, TVs, radios and every other communications device.

But as the smoke clears in Texas and the Boston bomber search turns into an interrogation-fest, the tumultuous of last week at least provided us with several PR lessons. They aren’t profound, but in a week that fractured emotions as much as it fractured bones and lives, they bear repeating.

  • Don’t get ahead of the story: CNN’s tagline might be “the most trusted name in news,” but that self-proclaimed distinction did it little good when on Monday the cable network, in an effort to break news, announced there was a bombing suspect under arrest. Except there wasn’t  What followed was a flurry of breaking news, push notifications, tweets, live blog updates and story backtracking that quieted their aggressively inaccurate reports. As much as we counsel clients to get ahead of their stories; to take ownership of their own news cycle, clients and PR firms can’t achieve these goals without all the facts in hand. Even if it means having to play catch-up, facts must always trump the fast-paced adrenaline rush to be first.
  • Don’t become the story: Epicurious (the food and recipe website), this bullet point has your name written all over it. Auto tweets that read: “In honor of Boston and New England, may we suggest: wholegrain cranberry scones” are disasters in their own right. Brands that capitalize on tragedy (as Gap and American Apparel tried to do after Hurricane Sandy) might well be digging their own graves – and fast. Even heartfelt apologies might not do enough to undo the uncaring hurt of a 13-word tweet. Borrowing some tweet-worthy advice from @socialnerdia, quoted in a CBS news article, “Social Media 101: If you’re not adding value, say nothing.”
  • You can’t plan for the unexpected: Or…to use the original Yiddish (as I’ve done in the past) “Der mentsh trakht un got lakht.” Translation: man plans and God laughs. This is a particularly hard lesson to remember. Whether it’s our smartphones and tablets, satellite GPS, the Internet, air conditioned homes, vaccinations or our fancy cars, technology creates the illusion that we’re in control of our lives, that we have some say over stubborn randomness. Yet with all that power bad things still happen and innocent children still die – if for no other reason that they were unlucky. Man plans and God laughs. No real lesson learned from this. Only a reminder that the expression is as true today as when it was first put to paper.

For the millions of Americans whose lives were not directly impacted by last week’s tragedy, I wish this coming week to be a peaceful one, filled with family, love and laughter, as we all brainstorm for ways to help West, Texas, and Boston heal. For the people living in those injured communities, know that in time you, too, will be proudly proclaiming TGIM for all the mundane reasons you (and the rest of us) normally do. Public relations and journalism are tricky businesses. And sometimes in our rush to be first, sensitivity comes last. Until we learn from these repeated mistakes, blogs like this must be written.

Here’s to a better, brighter week. A week when we can all say TGIM – and mean it!

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