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.