This is classic PR blundering- recently a Washington Post style reporter went to the office of Congressman Aaron Schock. What the reporter found was a lavish office that looked like it was based from the TV show Downton Abbey.
Once the communications director found out that the reporter was in the fancy room, the communication director, Benjamin Cole, tried to coerce the reporter into not taking pictures and to not doing the story. Cole said “Are you taking pictures of the office? Why would you write that? Who told you could do that.” Also, “you’ve created a bit of a crisis in the office.” “Why sour it by rushing to write some gossipy piece.”
“Surely it wouldn’t be fair for you to write about this office until the congressman has a chance to see the office.”
This is classic PR blundering. The second you tell a reporter he or she can’t do a story or they shouldn’t do a story you’ve basically guaranteed the reporter is going to do that story. This is because reporters don’t want to have other people tell them what is interesting. Reporters become reporters because they crave intellectual freedom and they bristle at some outsider telling them what to do, as if they were a member of a communist regime propaganda service.
The best thing to do in this situation, if you are a communications director for a congressman or anyone else, is try to create a more interesting story for the reporter. Don’t tell them that they are creating a crisis because it’s a reporters job to cover a crisis. You’ve just alerted the reporter to a more interesting story.
Instead, act polite. Act like the reporter has complete independence doing whatever he/she wants, but try to give a story to the reporter that is more interesting. This way, the initial damaging story will seem less important and will be less likely to be used.
Unfortunately, for Congressman Schock, this story has now blown up all over the internet. And within 24 hours an outside watchdog group issued a formal request into an ethics violation of the congressman. This PR nightmare has just begun.
if you are looking for skills on how to minimize the PR crisis in your office, please call Media Training Worldwide at 212-764-4955