I Was Threatened By a Reader: How NOT to Respond to Bad Press

Today, I offer a wild and crazy follow-up to a recent post on how NOT to pitch media.

First, the background: a reporter from the Atlanta Journal Constitution posted a PR pitch she received up on Facebook to demonstrate how not to pitch the media. (It was truly dreadful). Naturally, I posted it here. At the time, I simply copied-and-pasted the exact pitch into my blog post, which included the client’s name…over and over and over and over…

Well…last night at 10:00 pm (yes, 10:00 pm), my phone rang. I didn’t answer because I was busy watching Sigourney Weaver beat up some Aliens. Then, it rang again. I hit ignore. It rang a third time. Then, I got a text. It said:

“I just read your email blog this is totally a mistake about me and my work…please remove now…kb”

Not recognizing the number and unable to think of any friends with the initials KB, I asked what the person was talking about. Well, as it turns out, it was the “award-winning actor” the bad pitch was about. (I’ve since removed my phone number from my web site).

I attempted to explain (via text) that the blog post was not about him or his work, but about bad PR on his behalf. He ordered me to remove it. He said he gets people writing about him all the time. He said he’d issue a National Press Release (yep he capitalized it and everything!) about how I am out to ruin his career. Of course, I did think, “cool, nothing like a media feud to drive some SEO my way!” But, he was sounding increasingly unhinged, so I stopped trying to reason with him and ignored his texts.

Unfortunately, it got really ugly with the guy actually making physical threats against me and even calling me a racist.

At that point, I emailed his publicist, a very nice man who – despite the hour – responded quickly, professionally and apologetically. Because the PR pro was clearly in a bad spot and assured me he would deal with his client, (plus, I really don’t need crazy in my world), I agreed to remove the actor’s name from the post and replaced it with “Client Name.”After all, my point was how bad the pitch was, not who it was about. (Incidentally, the pitch was written by the client – not the publicist).

Now, folks, here’s where I am floored. This guy is trying to be an actor – someone whose entire career is dependent upon media attention. He is someone who has hired a publicist to get his name in the press and manage his image with the media. And, yet, here he is writing and sending out his own (genuinely terrible) media pitches – something his publicist has repeatedly asked him not to do. Baffles me. Why pay an expert to do a job for you, then ignore the expert and try to do it yourself? And – worse yet – harass and threaten a Blogger?! What possible good could he think would come of that?

Consider – if you will – that this is me and my little PR/Social Media blog read largely by PR pros, marketers, reporters, teachers and students … Let’s imagine this guy makes it big. What’s he going to do when Perez or TMZ or AICN or Defamer/Gawker go after him? Sites with industry influence as big as their readership. Sites that would have eaten this exchange up like it was ice cream. It would have been Christmas in June! They would have posted his name and every single text he sent them. They would have encouraged a feud because it’s fun for their readers. They would publish his phone number, mock his bio, maybe even crown him the new worst person in the world. Perez Hilton would have drawn things on his photo that I won’t describe here. They would ridicule him to ruin. And, there is nothing he could have done about it because the media has the loudest mic – which gives them the last word.

So, my night of textual harassment is now a great study of what NOT to do when you get negative press.

I think we can all agree Number One on that list is calling and texting a Blogger from 10:00 to 11:45 pm and demanding that a story be removed and then threatening them with violence.

When I media train clients, I have a little saying, “everything you say can and will be used.” I leave off the “against you” part because most Bloggers and reporters aren’t looking to write a negative piece…but if negative is what you give them, I assure you, negative is what they will use.

Now, let’s talk libel for a minute. Libel law is something you just don’t hear about much anymore. When I was coming up in PR, you had to actually recite it on command. Today people think they understand it, but they really don’t. To have any kind of libel case against the media – or anyone publishing content online – you must have defamation. Defamation is a false statement to a person’s discredit. So, I could legally publish the entire text exchange between myself and this guy – as long as it was verbatim – and I could then offer my opinion of his behavior and statements.

Also consider the power of being “on the record” and what that really means. The legal definition means simply that you know you are talking to a reporter, therefore everything you say, email, or text is up for grabs. So, the email pitch he sent to the AJC, every word of it, can be published as having been on the record as long as it is attributed and sourced appropriately.

The question remains then, what DO you do if someone writes a negative piece about your client – but hasn’t actually defamed or libeled them.

First, you appropriately media train your client so they understand how to talk to the press and they practice the story they want to tell. Then, offer a one-on-one with the reporter to allow them to get the real story. Depending on what they cover, how you approach them, and what else they have going on, they may take you up on it (especially if there was a lot of interest in the previous piece).

If they decline, the next step would be to reach out to a competitive media channel and offer them the same thing. I’d also follow it with a flurry of news releases and photo opps that show the client in the best light possible.

You can’t change what someone has already written about your clients, but you can influence what will be written next … and after that … and after that … then with the right SEO strategy, you might just be able to bury the bad with a whole lot of good. (Unless, of course, your client is creating new negative stories by harassing the media!)

Finally, to the kind PR pro who continued to reassure me until 1:45 am that he will handle his client, thank you very much … and good luck to you sir, seems to me you’re going to need it. (If I come up missing, y’all know who did it!)

UPDATE

In case you don’t know from the comments section, Defamer/Gawker did in fact pick up this story and they did name the actor. They also stated they contacted him for a comment and will report on any reply.

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