Media Training Advice: 3 Lost Public Relations Opportunities in the Duck Dynasty Reaction

By Gerard Braud Our focus on media training, crisis communications and public relations extends into the Duck Dynasty controversy and three lost opportunities. Put your politics, religion and personaBy Gerard Braud

GQ ClipOur focus on media training, crisis communications and public relations extends into the Duck Dynasty controversy and three lost opportunities.

Put your politics, religion and personal views about gender, sexuality and race aside for a moment in order to put these observations into the context for which they are intended.

Today’s primary question: Did those reacting to Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson each miss a golden opportunity in their reactions to advance their respective causes?

A secondary question: Is the media, in many cases, misreporting this story because most who are reporting on it are not reacting to the original GQ story? Instead, are they reacting to headlines they have heard from from others in the media, and from others who are reacting, who have labeled Robertson as homophobic, anti-gay and a racist?

Remember… put your politics, religion and personal views aside to look at the questions from a public relations point of view…

Also, read the GQ article first.

Also, read the Bible passage that Phil makes reference to.

Once you’ve done your background research, you can read on…

Here are the missed media opportunities by A&E, gay activist groups, and groups representing blacks.

Lost Opportunity #1 – Gay Organizations are failing to advance their cause because they opted to be reactive rather than pro-active in their statements. This is especially true for what I’ve read from GLADD. From a media training, crisis communications and public relations perspective, their statements vented anger back at Robertson. This approach divides all audiences into pro-gay and anti-gay factions.  If GLADD took a calmer approach and removed anger, hurt and outrage from their statement, they could – from a media and public relations standpoint – leverage the situation to their advantage.

If I were writing their statement for them, it would have said, “We recognize that many people in America share a similar Biblical belief as expressed by Phil Robertson, including the belief that it is sinful for a man to sleep with a woman he is not married to and for a woman to sleep with a man she is not married to. What we share with Robertson is the belief that monogamous relationships have value, and therefore underscores our support that marriage equality be extended to partners of the same gender. We also recognize that many people believe homosexuality is a choice and we continue to strive to educate people that a person’s gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity are defined in the womb. This is a belief shared my many Christians, who are both heterosexual and homosexual.”

Lost Opportunity #2 – The NAACP and the Human Rights Campaign issued a join statement that also chose to be reactive rather than proactive.

Phi on BlacksThe statement calls Robertson “racist” and “homophobic.” (A side note – this joint statement surprises me since many Christian blacks very much share Robertson’s Biblical views and believe in the same Bible passage which he referenced in GQ.)

In GQ Robertson talked about his own perception of blacks he knew and worked with growing up. The statements referenced his perception from where he lived, and from my read of the article, spoke of no hate toward blacks, yet the joint letter and the media have labeled Robertson as racist.

Again, the NAACP and HRC are using angry and accusatory language that reflects the hurt they feel. They are effectively driving the story and the headlines in the first phase of the story. However, for the sake of gaining a headline, did they fail to seize on a greater public relations opportunity to advance their cause?

My advice would have been to issue a statement that would have said, “Some in the black community will interpret the remarks made by Phil Robertson as racist. We, however, see it as a personification of what blacks endured during the civil rights period. In many parts of America, our white brothers and sisters did not see the discrimination that many of our black brothers and sisters were experiencing. It is for that reason that we have spent the last 50 years fighting for equality and justice for all and the reason we will continue to our efforts to bring awareness to the need for equality.”

Lost Opportunity #3 – A&E could have addressed this matter without Phil’s suspension. A&E quickly bowed to pressure from the above mentioned groups, who are well organized, well funded, and have a public relations machine already in place. Television networks usually make their decisions based on their own revenue and the reaction of advertisers, who get pressured by activist organizations.

A simple statement without the suspension could have been the wisest way the network could have responded to the unfolding media crisis. They could have simply issued a statement that said, “We realize that many people will be offended by Phil’s remarks, while many people share his belief. However, even if we, as a network do not agree with all that Phil has said, we respect his First Amendment rights and his freedom of speech. We ask for understanding by all of our employees, viewers, and sponsors. We also apologize to anyone who may have been offended by Phil’s remarks.”

While Duck Dynasty viewers are not currently as well organized as the above mentioned groups, I think A&E will see that they too vote with their dollars and have the ability to organize and mobilize through social media to put pressure on the network and the sponsors of Duck Dynasty. This program draws one of the largest audiences on cable television and A&E.

Crisis Management for Duck Dynasty

Now consider this media relations, crisis communication and public relations truth – We’ve seen many people who are in the media spotlight for a controversy, make it worse when they either respond or attempt to issue an apology. Paula Deen was horrible in her live Today Show interview with Matt Lauer. Chip Wilson, founder of Lululemon was forced out of his job because his apology was poorly worded and poorly executed.

The next move for Phil Robertson and the Duck Dynasty family is the most critical. A poorly executed post-crisis interview, like the one by Paula Deen, could spell disaster. While saying nothing in the short term is an option, every time any of the Duck Dynasty stars are in public, you can bet someone from the media will be there shouting a question or asking for a comment about the controversy.

Every member of the Robertson family – if they want to manage this properly – must sit down with the best media expert and best media trainer they can find – and spend some serious time preparing for their verbal and non-verbal reactions. The clever one-liners used on the television show will not play well in media interviews. The media trainer must work with the family members to keep them authentic and to recognize that they can still speak their mind, but that each word they say is important and each word they do not say is important.

Careless phraseology by an authentic person is what started this controversy. Careless phraseology will make the controversy worse.

There are many moving parts to this media crisis and there are many opportunities that have been missed and are yet to be taken.

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