Blog Article

Ponderings on PR #5: Dealing with death

Considering my new career path and the many questions it throws up, especially among journalist/theatre friends, I thought it might be an idea to write a string of articles about PR – as people always seem to have questions! And yes, this is also a bit of shameless self-promotion… 😉

This appears to have posted before I wrote anything… congratulations WordPress!

Which is rather upbeat way of starting a rather difficult blog article. My January started off with an actor dying in a show I was working on two days before press night, in a shock to the entire company. I didn’t know said actor very well, but it did bring to light a strange side to being a PR – what to do when you don’t want coverage.

Because said actor had some smaller roles in some quite big films, the news that he’d died was picked up quickly, and I soon found myself inundated with requests to speak about what had happened – just as the company had agreed with me that we wouldn’t talk about the actor’s death in the press because we didn’t want it to be used to sell tickets, which we felt would be disrespectful.

But that didn’t stop the journalists – for someone who spends most of their life trying to get their attention, I was suddenly trying to ward it off. An original “let’s not talk about it” policy led to an early article full of errors, but the subsequent corrections then led to an article that got shared all over the world. An innocuous Facebook comment got over 280 likes and 150 comments, ranging from the supportive to the mad. A friend in America said they’d seen my name on E Online… which is not a sentence I imagine I’ll use again in the near future, if ever.

At first, I felt a bit affronted – this was the opposite of what I normally do. We didn’t want to use this situation in a PR capacity, but it got away with us, and did in the end lead to the show selling far better and getting more coverage – it was out of my control. But then family and friends started suggesting that we should do more – that the actor would have wanted the show to be seen, and this being something he would have wanted… leaving me feeling torn.

I don’t have an answer to this at all. Heck, I’m still reeling a little. I don’t know if there’s a right answer as to what to do when something newsworthy yet distasteful to use as a PR tactic happens. In the end, this situation has shown me (more than ever) that some stories will travel, no matter what I do: I can do my best to smother something a client doesn’t want out there as much as I can do my best to promote something they do, but that’s it – some stories will run no matter what, just as some won’t.

The main effect of all of this was to highlight another side of this job – briefly, I wasn’t the man with the megaphone trying to get my client recognised, I was their shield from the press when they didn’t want to comment. It’s a new side of all of this for me, but definitely something to add to the toolbox.

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