The PR Consquences of Profanity

Or not.

I wrote about the profanity-laced exchange between tech blogger Mike Arrington and Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz earlier this week.  My post focused on the proliferation of profanity on the internet and on social networks.

My colleague Dave Reddy, senior vice president and media director at Weber Shandwick, has an excellent perspective on the issue from a corporate public relations point of view that is worth sharing.

Dave works out of Silicon Valley and has worked with a many big brands including Microsoft, Sun  and Dell.  He was also a reporter with the Washington Post and the San Jose Mercury News.  Media relations runs in his blood.

Dave notes that while many CEOs and corporate executives may long to tell-off a reporter, especially one who is either being rude or confrontational, they should stop themselves.

But Dave says this much better than I do:

“One of the rules of engaging with the media is to NOT model their behavior. Why? Because what the journalist does/says isn’t what ends up getting reported. This piece on the issue from CNBC is proof of that: Yes, on a day the Dow dropped 300 points before noon PT, THIS was the story Jim Goldman decided to tell on CNBC.

What’s not reported is that Arrington – no shock at all – opened the interview with, ‘So, how the f*** are you?’ and was combative from the get-go.  Some reporters have picked up on that, including ZDNet’s Dennis Howlett, who takes Bartz’s side.

The reason Bartz is in the wrong here (even as much as I WISH she were in the right) is because her language – and not her message of how she’s going to save Yahoo! has become the story.  In case you hear any of your clients saying what a wonderful job Ms. Bartz did taking out Mr. Arrington, remind them (politely of course) that interviews aren’t a place to get even (especially when a camera’s running – and when isn’t one?). Interviews are a place to deliver quotable messages.”

Dave also notes that it is the job of PR people to do the dirty work for corporate executives.  Let them handle the back-and-forth.  Executives should stay out of the fray and focus on delivering the message.

Good advice.

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