Wednesday, June 09, 2004


There is always a person or group that takes advantage of tragedy to make a point. I call what they do "grandstanding." They are folks who run ahead of parades and proclaim themselves marshals. They file lawsuits they know they cannot win but spark headlines. They hold press conferences and make irresponsible charges in time for the news deadlines. They lead protests that have little to do with actual events.

Organizations are often breathless at the cynicism of such persons, but the sad part is that opportunists get away with what they do time and again. The worst part is that they always seem to find followers.

There is nothing PR practitioners can do to stop grandstanding. But there is something they can do to cut the legs out from under those who attempt it. The key is to have facts and to use them mercilessly. This is not as easy as it sounds because many events are fogged in ambiguity. Ambiguity plays into the hands of opportunists. Clarity doesn't.

Among grandstanders I dislike, I place a prominent African-American,a self-proclaimed spokesperson for a segment of the African-American community. He lost all credibility years ago when he made false charges against a district attorney in Upstate New York in a case where a black girl lied that she was raped. The district attorney sued for libel and won. This fellow then claimed he had no assets and could not pay damages in spite of the fact that he continues to dress and live well. As far as I know, the attorney never did collect the full amount from this person.

Yet, here is this fellow time and again thrusting himself to the head of protesters and claiming the spokesperson position. More than that, TV networks continue to hire him as a political commentator.

People like this African-American are difficult PR challenges because attacking them is equated with racism, or something else, when it might be nothing of the sort. Yet, if an organization fails to fight, the opportunist rolls over it.

I would rather fight, but it is not always a PR practitioner's choice. A CEO may have to take a longer view of what is best for a company and to sacrifice anger to expediency. Of course, the opportunist wins when this happens.

No one said PR is easy.


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