Every day the news feeds are full of headlines advertising pictures of this celebrity, that sensation, or another sandal. Today, besides the Erin Andrews peephole circus, pictures surfaced of Andrea Mcnulty, a Lake Tahoe casino employee who is accusing Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of sexual assault. According to that news, Mcnulty alleges Roethlisberger lured her into his room and forced her to have sex with him. Regardless of the validity of the allegations, because of Roethlisberger’ notoriety, the search for pictures of the casino worker was on. This story provides us with a good example of how initial negative press should be handled.
People’s unquenchable thirst for “the dirty details”, and sensational headlines is nothing new. These days though, in an age of citizen reporters and instantaneous communication, anyone with a hint of celebrity status is going to have to deal with negative press served up digitally, at hyperspeed, and viral spread. This should be no secret to publicists and PR pros, but given some stories of late, and the rather incorrect responses we have seen, one has to wonder. In Roethlisberger’s case, his publicity people or his attorneys did a great job of packaging his response to the allegations. He made one effective and appropriate statement only. This is the Internet, where being idiotic travels at the speed of light. Google “making press statements” press for crying out loud.
“I did not sexually assault Andrea McNulty,” he said in a Pittsburgh press conference. “Her false and vicious accusations are an attack on my family and on me. I am going to fight to protect my family and my reputation.”
He went on to say he had faith in the judicial system, and that he would allow that to be his forum for answering the charges Miss Mcnulty aimed at him. Sensation has always been the name of the game in the celebrity world, but as we saw yesterday, in the case of the Fort Myers Beach City Manager who was fired, non-celebrity people are often catapulted into at least the Internet world of celebrity.
For Scott Jenke, being fired ostensibly because his wife was a porn actress put the heat of the spotlight not only on him, but onto the city’s mayor and council as well. No reasonable statement has been issued by Jenke or the city in this regard, leaving the matter open to speculation and the fires of sensation that burn underneath Google’s search. Everyone wants to see pictures of Jenke’s wife Anabela Mota Jenke. This one example is a good case study into the other side of the “citizen journalist or reporter” syndrome is mirrored by what can be called “digital instant celebrity” – the flip side of digital conversation.
The reader may be thinking; “What is the significance of this?” Well, to say everyone in the world needs a PR or an attorney is a stretch, but it is really not far from the truth actually. The digital realm has put everyone in an unusual situation, or at least one few are prepared to deal with. If just an allegation can cause tens of thousands, or even millions of people to think one way, then it stands to reason most people need “at least” some idea of how to respond in potentially costly situations. For Roethlisberger, he is obviously insulated by several layers of spokespeople. One would think any city in the US, let alone Fort Myers, would have at least some idea of a proper resoponse in that case. However, we see every day businesses and people in general who do not have the slightest idea of the power social media wields.
The Days of “No Comment” Are Over
Silence in the digital age is the instant media equivalent of falling silent at one’s own murder trial. Public opinion now has a geometrically more dramatic effect because of the speed with which ideas and even supposition are spread. I think of social media a little like local gossip magnified a billion times. Anyone reading this can identify with this idea I am sure. So, the crux of this article is that regardless of how much we would all like to pretend it is 1980, it is decidedly not. Everything that goes into this little machine called the PC, and exits it onto the vast landscape of the Web, is absorbed and regurgitated to millions of people. No comment in this case, leaves far too much room for speculation and the wrong idea to become the mindset of the public.
The good news for everyone is that the Internet is also chock full of examples for good PR and proper responses for those willing to invest a little time. To simplify this idea, suffice it to say anyone can Google anything, and then craft a decent statement for just about any situation. This Roethlisberger example being one of the best, and the City of Fort Myers being another. Left as it is, this city officials there opened the door to a firestorm of opinion that they had been either unfair, where outside the law, or at best simply stupid in their dealings with Scott Jenke. The truth will come out, maybe, but before that happens 10 million people will perceive the right and wrong of the situation. In that case, the Mayor could have simply announced the firing, and postponed further comment until a decent one could be prepared. Instead, he made an idiotic statement that bore no resemblance to the truth.