Charlie Sheen: The Ultimate PR Crisis

In more than 20 years of professional PR counseling, I’ve yet to tell a client to utter the words, “No Comment” to the press. It’s akin to saying, “I’m guilty” or “I have something to hide” in the world of public perception. However, today, I am coining a new term, “Pulling a Charlie Sheen,” which leads me to my inevitable conclusion.  If I were Charlie Sheen’s publicist–oh, that’s right, he just quit–I would tell him to simply keep his mouth shut. Whenever he does open it, he inserts his foot. Many American’s enjoy watching celebrity meltdowns on television or listening to their rants on talk radio – heck, even media sites like make a business out of provoking celebrities to anger in ambush interviews and paparazzi style photo opportunities. As a public relations teacher, we’ve enjoyed discussing the escapades of Charlie Sheen for the purpose of examining what not to do in a crisis PR scenario. It was actually a midterm assignment for my students. His story has all the earmarks of a disaster in the making. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is a disaster every day. What more do the students say? I will give every student in class 50 extra credit points if any of their blog comments to this post gets picked up by a national news outlet before our final exam on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17. Sorry Charlie! Coincidentally, a USA Today article here quotes him as saying that yesterday’s radio call-in rant could be his last. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing in disbelief. If you believe that, I’ve got a great at-home drug rehab program for you.


Inflammatory News Stories or Journalism

Why do dead birds fall from the sky? Should you care? Seems like the news media likes to find connections in odd occurrences that continue to plague our country. The media it seems, loves a crisis or at least stories of animals dying en masse. Why is this news? It is certainly odd, one of the criteria for newsworthiness and it seems like there are an abundance of these events happening. This commentary on the recent avian news suggests that this might be a case of human lemmings pushing each other over a cliff. View this video and then add your comments:

Smear Campaign By Toyota PR or By Victims’ Lawyers?

According to an article from the Washington Post, Toyota recently conducted opinion polls designed to test messages that would discredit researchers who criticized the company’s actions following the sticky accelerator problems of recent months. At the heart of the story, are the actions of a polling firm (and its associated PR agency) that were designed to debunk the credibility of experts who testified before Congress about Toyota’s failure to respond adequately to this safety issue. And there you have what seems to be a straightforward story: influencing public opinion using research practices designed to directly attack “unfair or false assertions.” However, the story seems even more misleading, or confusing the more you read: the individuals involved appear to already be biased against the automaker! One is an auto industry safety consultant who authors a blog critical of Toyota. The other man is an auto technology professor in Illinois who conducted a study that supposedly revealed Toyota engine design flaws. (Toyota officials claim the same test would generate the same results for all automobiles.)  Oh, and by the way, the safety consultant works with victims’ attorneys. Is the headline of this story misleading? The idea of intimidating witnesses is wrong and likely illegal, but what of the credibility of the witnesses themselves? If your business was threatened by nasty bloggers (allied with lawyers intent on destroying your company or suing you for millions) or a “test” conducted by a vocal critic, wouldn’t you deem it fair to present the facts and tell your side of the story? It goes on every single day in American politics with candidates and elected officials fighting each other through research, opinion polls, pseudo-science, etc. Case in point: When was the last time you had a rational conversation with someone about the Theory of Global Warming (now called “Climate Change” by proponents) without getting into a heated discussion–pun intended–with someone who has plenty of evidence and science that appears to be politically motivated? Ugh.

Apparently more details of this particular Toyota poll will be made public next week. Then we’ll likely hear more about how egregious the actions were by Toyota…but perhaps what will be lost in the message is whether or not the critics themselves are legitimate. Ask yourself this, do they have a personal investment or professional credibility at stake? What is their motivation? What do they have to lose or gain? Of course Al Gore will promote his environmental world view. He stands to make a lot of money by promoting hysteria. Perhaps this post didn’t go where you thought it would, but let me leave you with one more thought: follow the money trail and it will always reveal much more. Your thoughts?