(Note: In this post I criticized Boris Johnson’s boasting about continuing to shake hands in spite of well-known recommendations against doing that during a pandemic. I wrote it before he went to the hospital and the ICU. I can’t stress enough that I wish him a speedy, full recovery. I’m leaving the post up for now. I’m angry at politicians like him – how many people did he infect? How many people saw his example and followed it? Again, I hope he’s quickly on the mend.)
The basics of public relations seem pretty easy. I’m sure there are times that crafting responses and strategies can get a little complicated, but in general, I’m sticking to the it looks pretty easy line. The hardest part, obviously, is getting clients not to step on their own…well, to shut the f…stay quiet.
COVID is offering up a free class on the basics of PR. Maybe I’ll keep a running list. The first item should be a universal tenet of PR.
Don’t be an asshole.
If you’re a rich asshole, pay someone really well to help keep that quiet.
Last month you (the general you) might have rushed into a wildfire to rescue a family of starving koalas. Maybe you donated $3 million to the UNHCR. Good for you. Those are swell things to do, rich person. But don’t fucking post a photo on Instagram of you quarantining on a super yacht during a global pandemic that is killing tens of thousands. (I haven’t gone back and read more on Geffen’s yacht post. Maybe he got hacked. Doesn’t matter – the advice applies to anyone with a yacht, big house, or luxurious backyard. There are people cooped up in small places with their 4 roommates, and there’s no money coming in.)
I don’t know shit about yachts. Maybe the costs are such that the same amount of money flies out of your wallet whether it’s docked or floating around. Hell, maybe by taking it out the crew is making money they’d otherwise be losing out on (which would also make you an asshole if you weren’t paying them). But if you’re going to be out on a yacht during a deadly pandemic, you need to either stay the hell away from social media or make damn sure the only photos on social media are of you impersonating J. Peterman in a goddamn zodiac delivering medical supplies to isolated communities.
Behind the scenes maybe you’re helping 30 local restaurants and their employees weather the storm. Those restaurants will be grateful, the rest of the world will only remember that you’re an asshole.
3. Don’t try to out tough science. This will be very difficult for most Republicans, who stopped believing in science shortly after Galileo. For what it’s worth, the Democrats don’t get a free pass, especially during the coronavirus. Any of us who are not scientists or health policy experts should not go anywhere near a declarative statement on any of this. “Dude, that mask won’t protect you.” I was at a hardware store in early March and asked if they had hand sanitizer. The 22 year old bent over laughing, telling me that I didn’t need hand sanitizer, and that this whole thing was just another election year trick. Idiot.
Sorry, that’s called going off on a tangent. Don’t try to be the tough guy. Here we have the mother of all examples.
I very sincerely wish Mr. Johnson a speedy recovery to full health. I don’t want anyone getting this virus, and if they do, I’m hoping for fast, complete recoveries. The sooner the better. But Mr. Johnson does provide a little PR lesson.
When he recovers, he’s going to want to get back to work leading his country. How many times do you think he’s going to have to deal with reporters asking him what he now thinks about his hand-shaking?
Can’t be too hard on him, though – we are all guilty on that score. How many pandemics do we have to go through to realize that shaking hands is stupid as shit? Are there people quarantining right now thinking, Jesus, I hope this ends soon so I can shake some hands. I have a friend here in Seattle – his first instinct is always to shake hands, no matter how recently we just saw one another. Hand out. “Damn dude, what’s it been? Two hours since I last saw you? Shit man, how’ve you been?” I thought Trump’s odd hand shaking fetish might finally help us get past this archaic tradition. Nope.
Now let’s get to De Blasio. Another elected official who tried to out tweet the coronavirus.
If you’re the mayor of a city, it’s understandable that one of your main concerns is the stability and security of people’s jobs and businesses. Their health and safety needs to be a higher concern. To be fair, the two overlap. Also, I think in early March most of us (me included) were acting (very mistakenly) like we had some more time to see if COVID would gain a foothold in America. But if you’re a leader, sometimes you have to deliver difficult news. At the very least, don’t disregard what’s going on elsewhere in the world with a it can’t happen here approach.
Part of me would suggest embracing the chickenshit no response response. But it’s America, no one likes a chickenshit. Or at least we pretend we don’t. Be honest, treat people like adults. Hindsight offers this reply for De Blasio –
The virus is clearly spreading, and as far as I know, we don’t have any special immunity. We’re working with the governor and health officials to assess our next steps. If you go out, we recommend keeping it to smaller groups, wash your hands, and tip the shit out of people in the service industry. ~ SBHOPPER, not a PR expert, but willing to start immediately
In case you missed that last bit – I’m not a PR expert, I just play one in stupid blogs.