The courtroom of public opinion

Ever since the OJ trial, the media has discovered that courtroom drama sells.  Both cable TV and network TV are replete with programs about murder, white collar crime, and everything else you can think of that ends up in a courtroom.

One NBC producer recently said, “murder sells.”  And there is no lack of competition among stations’ like CBS’s 48 Hours and NBC’s Dateline to film and offer up the most dramatic and sensational true life stories.

Case in point is the recent Netflix series “Making a Murderer” which chronicled Steven Avery, a small town, unassuming man who spent 18 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.  When he was released, he sued Manitowoc County, Wisconsin for withholding evidence in his trial.  A year later he was arrested and tried for the murder of a young woman reporter and was convicted.

Every week whether it is a network or CNN, crime seems to sell.  But it isn’t just blood and guts.  The show American Greed is a hit by documenting how people create Ponzi schemes and bilk their friends, neighbors and relatives out of millions of dollars.

What does this have to do with PR and marketing?  Simple.  For every crime story there is a long period between the arrest and the trial.  During that time the media have at it, debating with one another the guilt or innocence of the person(s) at the center of the case.  How the accused can get a fair trial with saturated media coverage is a good question.

That’s why media consultants, or PR pros, are often brought it to get one side of the story told before it goes to trial.  No PR person can convince a reporter to not tell the truth or to overlook facts.  But they can get their side of the story out, and that’s the primary purpose of telling a story in the court of public opinion.

Crisis Communications — Not if but when

We’ve all heard the phrase, “not if but when.”  It can apply to many aspects of life.  It also applies to the fact that most businesses will face a public relations crisis sooner or later.

Most crises can’t be predicted, but organizations can be ready for them.  That’s why we recommend that every client have a crisis communications plan in place.  Some make it part of their marketing plan.  While we sometimes recommend this, we often create it as a stand-alone document.

The crisis communications plan will not prevent a crisis, but it will help you deal with the ramifications if one occurs.  There is no substitute for preparation, as we have learned from disaster relief drills recommended by the LAPD, LA Fire Dept. and so forth.

But a PR crisis is different. At stake is not life or limb (though in extreme cases it could be) but rather your reputation.  It takes years, sometimes decades, to build a good reputation, and only an hour to destroy it if a PR disaster strikes and it is not handled properly.

If you don’t have a crisis PR plan in place, create one.  If you need some guidance to do so, we are here to help.

Telling your nonprofit story

We are often asked “what makes a good news story?”  Interestingly, the answer is in the question.

If you run a nonprofit, you probably have a strong desire to see your organization written about in positive, feel-good ways in the press, online or on television.  Of course you do.  Media coverage brings recognition and often, recognition brings donor dollars.

But what is a good story?  What do the media cover and what do they look for?

Like I said in the beginning, the answer is in the question.  The media look for good stories.

The media are not in the business of promoting nonprofits or any business.  They are in the business of writing stories that are interesting, engaging and will hold their readership or viewers.  That’s why when you structure your message in story form, the chances of it being reported in the press are much higher.

So when you write that next news release, don’t talk about how great your organization is.  Talk about the people you help and how the efforts of your nonprofit are changing peoples’s lives.

You just may get a nice new story out of it.