In PR, Silence Isn’t Golden; Respect Your Audiences

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California v StanfordThey say silence is golden. True, if you’re looking out over the Grand Canyon during a beautiful sunrise. But in the world of high-stakes media, silence is often a man’s worst friend. Yet, coming from a sports PR background, I’ve seen countless athletes, coaches and owners/administrators try to stymie the inevitable with pure silence. And in almost every case, it comes back to haunt them . . . big time.

Case in point: Tiger Woods’ recent . . . umm . . . driving difficulties and his refusal to speak to authorities after he somehow managed to run his care into a fire hydrant and a tree at 2:30 a.m. because that’s so common that it doesn’t merit a response.

Or Notre Damn football coach Charlie Weis refusing to meet with members of the media following yet another heartbreaking loss by the Fighting Irish Saturday night at Stanford (a common practice of all coaches—at all levels—no matter the outcome of the game) in what will surely be Weis’ final game leading the Fighting Rudy’s.

The problem with each of these scenarios, and countless others just like them (how many times do you see a pissed off wide receiver [cough . . . Randy Moss . . . cough] say to the media “No more questions!” when someone asks why they dropped a pass that was right at their chest?) is that many in the sports world fail to realize that they no longer live in an isolated world. This isn’t 1950, and Bobby Thompson didn’t just win the pennant for the New York Giants (the former baseball version).

This is 2009. EVERYTHING you say and do as a public figure (and yes, Mr. Woods and Mr. Weis, you are both public figures) is seen, heard and dissected by your fans, the general public and the world. It’s time to start acting like you understand this fact.

The same applies to your company’s CEO, spokesperson, famous widget maker, etc. If they are in a position where people look to them to set the tone or trend of the time, then they had better have a very strong grasp of the fact that when you shun the media, or when you are rude to them, hang up the phone on them because you don’t like their line or tone of questioning, that will get reported and you are basically saying “Screw you!” to your key audiences/influencers and your fans, the exact people you don’t want to piss off from ANY reason.

So the next time your CEO says he doesn’t have time to speak with that key trade publication because its 30,000 circulation to your exact audience doesn’t ring as loud as reaching the Wall Street Journal’s audience of more than 2 million, take a deep breath, look him or her in the eye and do your job as a PR professional. Tell them they have a duty to speak to their public. It’s the right and respectable thing to do.

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  • keithtrivitt

    Figured I should clarify a couple of points in this post:

    1) I previously worked for five years in collegiate athletics communications, with time spent in the athletics departments at Truman State University and Illinois State University. All were great experiences, and I truly enjoyed the privilege of working with many tremendous athletes and coaches.

    2) It turns out Charlie Weis actually did speak to someone members of the media after Saturday's Notre Dame loss … well, sort of. He went on his postgame radio show on the Notre Dame Football Radio Network. If Weis' contract works like 99% of all NCAA Division I coaches' contracts work, then he is contractually obligated to make this appearance.

  • Laney

    In Tiger's case – it really does just increase the speculation surrounding this bizarre crash. But in Weis' situation I don't think he owed the media anything. They were undoubtedly going to ask him about his job, something be probably didnt have an honest answer for. Coaches are their for the team – not the media. He probably gave the best speech of life to those kids and instilled them with confidence and support that they needed after a devastating lose. They didnt need to see their coach ripped apart after that.

    But, I do agree with you on the CEO/trade mag thing. I think many times people get caught up in the big names and forget that a smaller circulation reaching your target audience more directly ultimately means more than reaching Joe over there.

  • keithtrivitt

    Laney – Good points all around, and thanks for chiming in. The one point I would make about the Charlie Weis situation is that he basically left it up to his players to answer the media's questions about his job for him. That's not right, IMO, in any way.

    This guy is getting paid major money to win, bottom line. His student-athletes do not get paid (though, of course, many of them get athletic scholarships, which is a whole different discussion). Also of concern to me is that he essentially bypassed the media that regularly writes and reports on his team to do a contractually-obligated interview on the Notre Dame radio network. In other words, the guy knows who is buttering his bread at night, but he's unwilling to take the heat off his own student-athletes, something a man of his age, stature and experience should be able to handle himself.

  • keithtrivitt

    And in late-afternoon news, the gauntlet has finally fallen on Charlie Weis at Notre Dame … he's been fired by the school's AD.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/news/story?id=470

    Hopefully, he will actually speak to the media like a responsible and respectable adult would and should do. Time to own up to your mistakes, Charlie, and move on.

  • keithtrivitt

    And in late-afternoon news, the gauntlet has finally fallen on Charlie Weis at Notre Dame … he's been fired by the school's AD.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/news/story?id=470

    Hopefully, he will actually speak to the media like a responsible and respectable adult would and should do. Time to own up to your mistakes, Charlie, and move on.

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