The 2011 “How We Learn From Others” PR Awards

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Five of the Year’s Best Lessons From the Wild World of The Media

Article Highlights:

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger’s head-on diffusion and Anthony Weiner’s denial and implosion.
  • Lindsay Lohan’s cry for attention.
  • Herman Caine’s affair denial that cost him his campaign and Newt Gingrich’s upfront admission that made the issue a non-starter.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot – and this year, there were a few that some media figures would certainly like to.

Now is the time the media looks back on the most significant stories of the year. Since we work with the media, we like to look back on the most significant stories in terms of PR. As comedian Jeff Foxworthy says, “You can’t fix stupid,” but what we can do is learn from others’ mistakes (and successes) to make better PR choices for ourselves.

Now, if as you read this year in review you see some decidedly “un-Marsha” phrases or ideas, it’s because the entire EMSI team contributed to these year-end awards and as media professionals, I felt their contributions were very valuable.

The “I’ll Be Back” Award

This one goes to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for his deft handling of the revelation that he had fathered a son with his family’s housekeeper.

After the news came out on May 9 that Schwarzenegger and his wife, TV personality Maria Shriver, were separating, the media speculated wildly on what caused the split.    Rumors of extramarital affairs streamed onto the Internet, with one in particular, about his housekeeper, getting the most attention. On May 17, “Ah-nold” released the following statement:

“After leaving the governor’s office, I told my wife about this event, which occurred over a decade ago. I understand and deserve the feelings of anger and disappointment among my friends and family. There are no excuses and I take full responsibility for the hurt I have caused.”

And that was pretty much it. There were a few stories here and there about the housekeeper and a Twitter posting from the son, but the story faded in about two weeks. In the meantime, Tiger Woods, who suffered through a nine-month news cycle for his improprieties, assumingly went back and beat his attorneys and PR handlers with a 3-wood while saying, “Why didn’t we do THAT?!!”

Arnold handled his indiscretion with textbook-style directness.  He saw what was coming, issued his mea culpa in a humble and contrite fashion, and got the heck out of Dodge. Corporate Americaand celebrities should take a lesson from The Governator.  And don’t worry about Arnold. He’ll be back in “The Expendables 2” in 2012.

The “This Stuff Writes Itself” Award

This one has to go to former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner. To refresh: The influential Democrat legislator from New York got caught sending women photos of himself in his underwear. It was a scandal so sensational and so monumentally mishandled that, if it had been written as a Hollywood script, no studio would have ever made the movie because it was so unbelievable it would have been deemed too unrealistic for audiences to accept.

First, Weiner claimed the photo was a fake and someone hacked his account. Then he said the photo might have been him, and then he finally copped to the whole thing and resigned from office. It was the news story that wouldn’t end. If only Weiner had handled it like Arnold, the scandal wouldn’t have been so disastrous and he might have “terminated” the bad press sooner.

And his name was Weiner. That was worth the price of admission, alone.

The “I’m Better Now And To Prove It, I’m Going To Take Off My Clothes” Award

It seems there is no more dangerous place in the world than being situated between actress Lindsay Lohan and a camera.

Most recently, however, Lohan felt it would be in her best interests to offer the media an in-depth interview about her recent run-ins with the law and her time in drug rehab. She wants the world to know she’s okay. But she didn’t give the interview to People or Oprah or Diane Sawyer. She gave it to Playboy – along with some cheeky nude photos.

Appearing naked, or even semi-naked, rarely enhances one’s credibility. Just ask Anthony Weiner.

The “How 9-9-9 Became Nein, Nein, Nein” Award

In 2011, Herman Cain turned mishandling the media into an art form.

For awhile, he was the king of the gaffe, making misstatements or failing to remember crucial points, from China’s nuclear capability to President Obama’s position on Libya.

But with each misstatement, hisnumbers continued to rise. Even after a woman came forward with accusations of sexual harassment, Cain was still the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.

Then came Ginger White, who claimed she had a 13-year affair and backed it up by texting Cain in front of a reporter, generating an immediate call back from the candidate, and promptly putting him on the phone with the reporter.

His denials became increasingly less specific and less convincing until, finally, he withdrew from the campaign.

The lessons he teaches is simple: No matter how far back in the closet the skeletons reside, they will not stay hidden. Assuredly, they will come out.  And if an old girlfriend texts while you’re on the campaign trail, just wait and respond in person.

The final irony was that the next front-runner who stepped in was Newt Gingrich, who came forward at the beginning of his campaign to admit he had an affair during his second marriage with the woman who became his third wife.  But by putting it out front early, by the time Cain’s campaign imploded, the voters had somewhat forgotten and forgiven Gingrich’s affair.  The jury is still out on his long-term viability as a candidate, but if he fails, it’s safe to assume that his marital issues won’t be the nail in the coffin on his bid for the presidency.

It makes you wonder if Arnold is one of his campaign advisers.

The “Power of Social Media” Award

It’s not easy being a celebrity in the media age. The paparazzi are waiting for you everywhere. While it’s one thing when the media steals one’s privacy, it’s quite something else when celebrities offer up their privacy on social media.

That’s why The “Power of Social Media” Award goes to actors Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher for letting their fans in on their not-so-private conversations of their break-up before they even called their attorneys.

As the media started rumor-mongering about the break-up of the Hollywood power couple, the two exchanged cryptic messages on Twitter that proved the rumors to be true before any kind of announcement about the break-up was made.  And, just to put the punctuation on the power of social media, Moore’s statement about the break-up wasn’t sent to the media by her publicist.  It was posted on Twitter.

And so it was that the two confirmed their split-up and gave fans a front-row view of their family drama.

The lesson is simple: If you use social media to maintain a public, professional profile, don’t let it get too personal. Hollywood mega-stars can get away with a whole lot more than the rest of us – including presidential candidates.

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