A Publicist Du Jour Offers a Teachable Moment on Crisis Management
Last Friday, I hit the radio airwaves with Humor Mill radio, ranting and raving about the whole Donald Sterling-Clippergate-NAACP-racism fiasco. In my world, that was a public relations nightmare for Donald Sterling, the Los Angeles Clippers; but more notably, for the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP. The NAACP – that is, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. I want to spell out its acronym so we can be reminded of what the civil rights organization represents. Leon Jenkins, the president of the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP, took a big hit in the arena of public opinion when offering his resignation for the Sterling racism debacle. Talk about collateral damage!
Often times, I’m asked: “What is a publicist?” And I’m truly surprised every time I get that question because it seems so obvious what a publicist does. But I guess not, because it took my mother a minute to figure out what I do for a living, too. In laymen’s terms, a publicist is a person who promotes and protects the image and brand of a person, place or thing. A good publicist is a salesperson and a master of persuasion.
A publicist uses words and creative imagery to shape the thoughts and opinions of a targeted audience. Sometimes, a publicist will “spin” a story to persuade public opinion in favor of or against a person, place or thing. Companies spend millions of dollars each year on advertising and fancy public relation campaigns to manipulate the thoughts and public opinions about its products and services.
I often proclaim myself as a “publicist du jour,” which in French, translates to mean publicist of the day. Well, the moniker is also a nod to a very famous and classic French movie, “Belle de Jour,” starring the award-winning actress Catherine Deneuve. The film is about a housewife who spends her afternoons as a prostitute while her husband goes to work. I have to admit, sometimes, I feel like I’m in the business of prostitution on my day job, hence the clever, little nickname. And I’ve told my clients that I’m their publicity pimp, who will put them on a corner for the sake of any and all publicity. I’m just driven that way. I can’t help it! Thank God, my line of work is legal! My mantra: All publicity is good publicity!
*Sigh* But, I digress.
Anyway, I thought I would use the public relations nightmare of Jenkins and the LA chapter of the NAACP as a teachable moment to illustrate the role of a publicist. Jenkins and the civil rights chapter is in serious need of “crisis management,” which is a fancy way of saying, sh*t is going to hell in a hand basket! So here it is:
Top 10 Reasons Why Leon Jenkins of the NAACP Desperately Needed a Publicist Last Week:
10. To masterfully craft a statement as to why the LA chapter of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization would give a second Lifetime Achievement Award to Donald Sterling.
Under the advice of a publicist, when news first broke about the racist rants of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, Jenkins and the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP would have immediately released a statement, regarding its affiliation with Sterling and how his contributions over the years have helped to assist the people and the advocacy of the NAACP. For any publicist, this would be a tricky feat since evidence exist that Sterling overtly discriminated against Blacks and Latinos – i.e. “colored people” – in various housing discrimination lawsuits. Still, it would be the first step in managing the crisis at hand.
9. To rescind Sterling’s award, and offer an apology to the public for the mistake in judgment.
Under the advice of a publicist, Jenkins and the LA chapter of the NAACP would have issued an apology for its lapse in judgment, and asked the public for forgiveness and support of its overall mission.
8. To manage the backlash and embarrassment of honoring Sterling.
As a publicist, I subscribe to the notion that all press is good press. So, with the LA chapter of the NAACP making headline news, this would be an opportune time to promote the chapter’s milestone of 100 years of service and highlight the positive work of the NAACP and its members.
7. To announce a new honoree for the Lifetime Achievement Award and promote the chapter’s 100th anniversary on May 15, 2014 at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in LA.
With the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP set to celebrate its centennial anniversary this month, a publicist would have quickly identified another deserving individual to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award, and announced it to the press — perhaps, someone associated with the Clippers organization, like …. oh … Basketball Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor, who served 22 years as general manager of the team. (Folks, this is a no brainer!)
6. To stay ahead of the news cycle with total transparency and share his personal story of redemption.
Jenkins, an attorney and former judge, is under a bit of scrutiny himself. He’s been disbarred by Michigan and California for misconduct. Through his volunteer work with the NAACP, he’s been working to get reinstated to practice law again. Since, the news cycle is 24 hours and hungry, Jenkins should have shared the importance of his work with the NAACP and his personal road to redemption. Unfortunately, bits and pieces of his past began leaking to the press, and it opened up another can of worms, regarding integrity issues for the LA chapter of the NAACP. A publicist would have crafted his personal story, just right.
5. To spin the story and promote the new recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award and the good work of the LA chapter of the NAACP.
Remember, all press is good press. I can’t reiterate this point enough! As it stands now, there’s a perception out there that the LA chapter and Jenkins are sell outs. And perception is reality.
4. To hire a stylist and “glam squad” for a makeover in preparation of the press conference and pending interviews.
Image is everything. Thrust into the spotlight, Jenkins not only became the face of the LA chapter of the NAACP; but, the entire organization as a whole and its members nationwide. A publicist would have made sure he was groomed, polished and presentable at the press conference, representing the organization on a very professional and credible level. In fact, every person standing behind Jenkins at the press conference should have been in their Sunday best and coached on their body language. #LeonJenkins began trending on Twitter, and not in a positive way to reflect the mission and purpose of the NAACP. Unfortunately, he was literally “roasted” alive on Black Twitter for his appearance!
3. To prep and coach him for the press conference, televised nationally around the world.
A publicist would have prepped Jenkins for his press conference like he was preparing for a presidential debate. He would have had the prepared statement almost memorized; delivered it authoritatively and intelligently without any stumbles; and answered questions from the media, convincingly.
2. To strongly advise him and the LA chapter of the NAACP to NOT honor Sterling because of his track record of discrimination against minorities.
This whole crisis could have been avoided with sound advice from a publicist who took 30 minutes to Google “Donald Sterling.”
1. To change the conversation.
Again, Jenkins and the LA chapter of the NAACP should be using this media exposure to promote its new honoree for the Lifetime Achievement Award and its upcoming festivities for its 100th anniversary celebration on May 15, 2014 at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown LA. For more details, click here.
Do you watch AMC’s “Mad Men?” If you don’t, it’s a period drama, set in the 1960s, which examines the advertising culture on Madison Avenue. In Season 2 of the award-winning drama, the main character Donald Draper states a classic line in a scene: “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” (Season 2, Episode 2/”Love Among the Ruins”) It’s one of my favorite quotes, AND it’s a pr strategy I utilize when necessary.
And there you have it! I hope by reading my Top 10 list, you’ll get a better understanding of what I do as a publicist. If you have questions, please ask me.
— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) May 2, 2014
#LeonJenkins been shady ever since he tried to get Raj, Rerun and Dwayne to illegally record that Doobie Brothers concert.
— Reasonable White Man (@BlackGirlDanger) May 2, 2014
#LeonJenkins can’t come over for Sunday dinner no more after that time he took the big piece of chicken.
— Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia) May 2, 2014
#LeonJenkins has fought over spades games, stabbed people over Bid Whist, and shot people over dice.
— Stank Underwood (@TheCoolTeacher_) May 2, 2014