Five Things Jesse Jackson Jr.’s Handlers Got Wrong

If I was teaching a PR class, there are some media events that could make great case studies. Take the case of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., son of the famed civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Jackson Jr. is currently being hospitalized for depression and another unnamed physical ailment.  However, the way this story was drawn out is a text-book case of how not to handle the media.

Here is what they got wrong:

  • They allowed the media to control the story. Right from the beginning, this story was driven by the media. It started off as a thinly-sourced story about Jackson being absent from Congress, then that quickly devolved into rumors about drug use and suicide attempts. All the while nothing came from the Jackson camp. Jackson’s staff should have got ahead of the story right from the beginning. They should have called a press conference and announced the congressman’s ailment and that he was under treatment. Unfortunately because this incident has to do with mental illness, I believe that the Jackson camp were reluctant to release the information.
  • There was no clarity. The media starts running with rumors when they have nothing to go on. Reporters often have daily deadlines to meet and they have to report something. If you don’t give them anything, as the Jackson camp did, they will report rumors. It’s better for you to give them real facts.
  • The story was allowed to drag on.  The story of Jackson’s illness first appeared in the media about three weeks ago and it is still in the news cycle. If the Jackson camp had rolled it out to the media quickly (preferably on Friday afternoon) they could have gotten all the bad news out in the open and done with quickly. Instead they allowed the media to keep the story going in drips. If they had been more open the media would have been done with this story in three days, or at most a week.
  • There was no spokesperson.  Early on in this news story, someone should have been named the Jackson camp spokesperson, who was the go-to-guy for the media. His father, Jesse Sr., who is well-versed in the media, could have handled this. (He seems to be doing this now.) It’s better to have your spokesman on a story than the media speculating or bringing on talking heads that have no idea about the case.
  • There was no consistency. One of the rules of PR is always stay on message. Well, the Jackson camp had no message whatsoever, and when news did get out, it was often conflicting.  Jackson was at home, then he was in a clinic. He was being treated for addiction, then it was revealed that he was being treated for depression.  They should have given regular media updates about the congressman’s condition. This is much better than letting the media run with rumors.

I hope the congressman recovers from his ailments and I realize that this is a stressful time for the family. However, this situation could have been handled differently avoiding lots of rumor, speculation and bad PR.

Manny Otiko, founder of Otiko Communications, has worked in the public relations and journalism field for about 15 years as a journalist and a media relations specialist. His experience includes stints as a reporter at a daily newspaper, serving as a media relations specialist for a state agency and working for several Southern California public relations agencies.

Manny has worked with clients in the public affairs, technology, education and economic development fields. He has secured coverage in publications such as The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, the Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal, CNN.com and Men’s Health.

Manny has been published in The Riverside Press Enterprise, The LA Sentinel, The LA Wave, The Washington Afro-Am, IE Weekly and Our Weekly. He is an active member of the National Association of Black Journalists and the Black Journalists’ Association of Southern California.

He is currently promoting Christopher Otiko’s medical thriller “Santa,” which is available as an ebook. “Santa” is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And it is currently available via PayPal for $1.99. (E-mail motik_1970@yahoo.com.) For more information visit Author Christopher Otiko on Facebook. To read the first chapters of “Santa,” go to http://bit.ly/santaebook

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  • Anonymous

    Agree with you, Manny. The worst thing you can do as a public person is to let questions linger and allow others to “write the story.” And for goodness sake — get the story right!