More free PR lessons you can learn just by paying attention to the news

by | Jan 9, 2024 | Public Relations

Early in July 2023, I wrote an article on this website regarding news events that provided free important PR lessons in the first half of the year. Here are my choices for the second half of last year. 

From the international scene

Israel was widely condemned by a large portion of the media that reported an Israeli rocket hit a hospital in Gaza. Israeli spokesmen immediately denied the report and subsequent investigations showed that the hospital was hit by a defective Hamas missile rocket that circled back after it misfired and fell into a nearby parking lot. A headline in the New York Times initially read, “Israeli Strike Kills Hundreds in Hospital, Palestinians Say.” As new information emerged the Times corrected the headline. 

PR lesson to remember: Whenever doing research for a PR project, never rely on one source. Checking multiple sources for information is a must to make certain that your project is not based on faulty information from newspapers, which rush to publish news ASAP, often without confirming the facts. TV programs, social media and information on the internet are not to be trusted as accurate. More reliable resources are respected print magazines, which have fact checkers, well-known encyclopedias, and books written by respected historians or experts in various fields.

From the sports scene

While the U.S. Senate hearings on July 11 regarding the proposed alliance between the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund was definitely not among the most important stories of the year, it was the first one of the second part of 2023 that provided an important PR lesson. 

PR lesson to remember: All mega sports actions, especially ones involving international sports, need to be treated by PR agencies as if it was handling a crisis situation because they will now be investigated more than ever since the New York Times announced that it future sports coverage will “focus even more directly on distinctive, high-impact news and enterprise journalism about how sports intersect with money, power, culture, politics and society at large.” That means that the days of rah-rah sports journalism is now history at the most influential newspaper in the U.S. 

In the past, the Times coverage of football’s concussions problems and baseball’s steroid troubles were largely responsible for changes in both sports. Because of the Times’ new approach to sports, look for even more reporting about the dark side of sports. The new approach to covering sports at the Times, which likely will be followed by other news outlets, also means that agency sports marketing account teams should be staffed differently than in the past. Staffers who have a background in business, marketing, and politics should be a prime part of any mega sports marketing account because, as never before, the media will be watching. 

The sports scene also popularized a new word—”sportswashing”—which the Oxford English Dictionary describers as “The use of sport or a sporting event to promote a positive public image for a sponsor or host (typically a government or commercial organization), and as a means of distracting attention from other activities considered controversial, unethical, or illegal.” 

From the political scene

Arguably the most important lessons that PR people could learn from the political scene in the past year is that despite strategy devised by the self acclaimed best PR minds there is no way that the tactics can prevent negative news coverage. This was evident throughout the year when investigative reporters from prominent publications kept breaking stories regarding the role played by supporters of former President Trump in his alleged attempt to derail President Biden’s election. 

PR lesson to remember: Never mislead or lie to reporters. Doing so will work to your client’s advantage only until the truth of a situation emerges, but the damage to your relationships with the media can derail your career forever.

From the labor scene

On June 30, Bloomberg News reported that sports media giant ESPN cut about 20 staffers who appear on TV and that the network also plans to not renew certain expiring contracts. Among those fired were some of the best known personalities who have reported for ESPN for many years, including one who was there from the beginning. (The names of those fired can be seen on web stories of news outlets that reported on what the Sports Broadcasting Journal called “the massacre.” 

PR lesson to remember: In our business, firing massacres are not uncommon (but are usually denied by the agencies). Repeating message points are important in our business. So here’s one I wrote on this website on August 21: Agencies do what’s best for them. Clients do what’s best for them. And PR practitioners should do what’s best for them because even though you’re told that you’re “like a member of the family,” the family, especially when the bottom line turns sour, often turns out to be a dysfunctional one. And when that happens, “the family” acts like the one in The Godfather trilogy crime films, with the employees suffering the fate of Fredo, who was killed for the good of the family business. 

From the big pharma scene

A Food and Drug Administration panel unanimously said that the decongestant phenylephrine in cold medicines—including Sudafed Tylenol, Mucinex, Benadryul and other over-the-counter cold meds—don’t work and perhaps should be banned. 

PR lesson to remember: Regardless of the entity or product, PR people must have a plan in place to reply to surprising negative news. 

From the cable news scene

Prominent broadcasters Tucker Carlson, Fox News, and Don Lemon, CNN, were dumped by their networks. Carlson was at Fox for 15 years and had the highest rated show on the network. Lemon was a 17 year veteran of CNN, who during his career there was considered a star. But when their networks believed that their actions were damaging, both were terminated despite doing yeoman work for years. 

PR lesson to remember: No matter how much good work, or even superior work, you have done for your agency over a long time span, management will not hesitate to fire you faster than a New York minute for the supposed good of the agency. So always do what’s best for yourself, because in the final analysis, despite your title and track record, you’re just an employee number. 

From the academic scene

College presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and M.I.T. are under on-going criticism for refusing to say whether they would discipline students who supported the genocide of Jews. 

PR lesson to remember: The three presidents underwent intensive media training according to published reports. But as I’ve always said, media training is no protection against aggressive on-target questioning from reporters or government officials. PR people should anticipate that negative fallout will happen when their client’s face hostile questioning and immediately after the hearing distribute pre-written op-eds to leading print pubs, make their client’s available for appearances on carefully selected TV talk shows and also arrange a round table presser with columnists s who have shown that they agree with the opinions of those questioned. They should also remember that a show of support for those questioned will not-so-negative coverage. Only the media will decide that the story has run its course. 

From the financial scene

The lead story in the December 30-31 Wall Street Journal told how self anointed financial wizards were wrong when they predicted a down year for the stock market. 

PR lesson to remember: When preparing material for distribution to the media, it should contain an overwhelming number of facts and a minimal amount of opinions. 

And finally, lessons PR people should learn from the sorry N.Y. Mets season

The New York Mets payroll for the 2023 season set a Major League Baseball record. Nevertheless, the team floundered early in the season and was out of contention for a play-off spot by June. Teams with much lower payrolls easily overtook the Mets. Many people in our business might relate to la difficulté of the Mets. 

PR lesson to remember: Account staffers assigned to big budget flagship accounts are expected to do well, that’s why management assigned them to those accounts. Many employees relegated to lesser accounts often feel that they are doomed to work on accounts that will not provide a path to advancement. And they are right in thinking that way. 

Here’s how to show management that you have the skills to advance: Keep a detailed record of your contributions and accomplishments, including conversations with clients. After a year, write a concise report to top management saying that you feel that you deserve an opportunity to work your skills at higher level accounts. Your immediate supervisor will resent your doing so. But as I was told after two years of doing Grade A work at Burson-Marsteller by the manager of a none New York office on whose accounts I was assigned to, “If you want to advance, find a way to let top management know of your accomplishments and take credit for your work, because if you don’t take credit for your work, the person you report to will.” I found a way to do so and my career blossomed. You should do so also. 

Honorable mentions

There were occurrences that I feel deserve honorable mentions: Some people might think that the New York Times July 7 article highlighting the legal troubles of the National Football League’s poster boy Tom Brady for hyping FTX, the failed cryptocurrency exchange, might have been the first 2023 news event that provided a public relations lesson. And it did provide an important one. 

PR lesson to remember: When things turn sour, the more prominent a personality, the greater the negative news coverage will be. But I decided to lead with the PGA-Saudi story because I think the crypto story has less general interest and is more difficult for people who don’t follow the markets to understand. 

In its September 21 editions, both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, on page one, featured stories about art stolen by the Nazis that were returned to the heirs of the artist Egon Schiele. 

PR lesson to remember: PR people should remember that a past happening regarding a client, no matter how many decades ago, can always be revived and receive major coverage today. 

Now for what I consider the most underreported story of the year

Even though deaths from Covid were regularly occurring throughout the year, it received scant coverage until September 20, when the Biden administration announced that it was again making free Covid tests available. (But it wasn’t until the closing days of 2023, that the increase in Covid infections began to receive major media coverage.) 

PR lesson to remember: What you and I think are major news stories are not what others may think. Remember this the next time your “sure hit” stories are rejected by journalists. 

And finally the most over-hyped story of the year

In my opinion, it’s the Taylor Swift-Travis Kelce relationship. 

PR lesson to remember: Reporters are always looking for something different. Provide them with something new and you’re sure to get a hit. The year 2023 substantiated a long-time belief of mine, which I have written about and told many times to people who reported to me: That a tuition-free Master Class in Advanced Public Relations is available every day by paying attention to daily news events. The year 2024 will do the same. 

Arthur Solomon
Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and was on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He has been a key player on Olympic marketing programs and also has worked at high-level positions directly for Olympic organizations. During his political agency days, he worked on local, statewide and presidential campaigns. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com.


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