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Magic Tricks, PR Style
By: Elizabeth Friedland
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PR practitioners always have to fight the perception of being spin artists, but that doesn’t mean the industry doesn’t have some tricks up its sleeve to help focus on positive messages and distract from the negative. While these may not be best practices, they are techniques used when times get especially tough. Have you used any of these? Are they ethical? What other (lawful) “tricks” have you heard of being used?
Defer and Dash
When sticky situation presents itself and a third party is involved, this trick passes the bag to them. You hear this most in the old favorite standby comment, “Because this is an ongoing investigation, we’re deferring to the police department for comment.” Suddenly it’s not your problem anymore.
Legal Limbo
There’s at least one profession the media may be more suspicious of than publicists — lawyers. Privacy concerns, confidentiality agreements, gag orders, and pending cases are all legitimate reasons to avoid speaking with the media, but occasionally a general “For legal reasons, we’re not allowed to comment” statement can be used to bow out of media inquiries.
Press (Conference) Play
PR Daily recently highlighted this lesser-known tactic. If you need to give a press conference but you’re expecting a harsh line of questioning that you aren’t able to respond to, providing only a vague opening statement forces reporters to spend the remaining time asking you the basic information you failed to provide. Then — whoops, look at that! — time has run out before the tough questions are tossed your way.
Timing is Everything
If your company has bad news to announce, there’s no rule that says you have to wait for a slow news day to release the information. This strategy waits until a big story breaks in the market to release the client’s bad news in the hopes that the smaller, negative story goes unnoticed.
Trickery is used on the other side of the aisle, too. An informal survey of media friends uncovered some of their industry’s sneaky tricks:
  • Reaching out to the press contact at bizarre hours (in the middle of the night) and then running the story first thing in the morning saying the company wouldn’t comment on the story.
  • Asking a contact for cocktails. The publicist’s guard may be up at first, but by the third stiff martini, they act like they’re talking to an old college pal.
  • Trading leaks with other media outlets. Say you give Newspaper A an embargoed tip. They obviously can’t report it without severing their relationship with you, so instead they’ll pass the tip along to News Channel B. News Channel B will report it — after all, they weren’t the ones trusted with this key info — and then Newspaper A will cover the story framed as “an investigative reporter with News Channel B reports…”

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About the Author
Elizabeth Friedland in Senior Digital Strategist, specializing in PR, at Hirons Advertising & Public Relations. To learn more than you ever wanted to know about her, visit www.elizabethfriedland.com.
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