Three Examples of Bad PR: Q3, 2013

This latest entry in my ongoing series of bad PR examples highlights three men who will go down in history as permanent punchlines:

Former New York congressman Anthony Weiner, defeated in his bid for New York City mayor upon revelations that he continued sexting after this behavior had forced his resignation from the House of Representatives.

Former San Diego mayor Bob Filner, compelled to resign when numerous women accused him of sexual harassment including female members of the armed forces who had been raped while in the service and a great-grandmother in her late sixties.

Quite-possibly-former baseball player Alex Rodriguez, given a 211-game suspension for using performance enhancing drugs, a penalty that comes after he lied on national television about earlier use of PEDs.


Each of these downfalls has commanded media time and the public’s attention. Each man has performed atrociously in crisis communications, resorting to denial, anger and recrimination. However, this post is not about their lack of public relations sensibilities once scandal erupted, or in the cases of Weiner and Rodriguez re-erupted. This is about the practice of true public relations, to be conducted from the moment a person enters public life or a company opens its doors.

I teach from the textbook Public Relations, A Values-Driven Approach. (I was honored to be quoted in the fourth edition of this book.) The authors cite “values” as the component often missing from the public relations model, defined in part as:

…the filters through which we see the world and the world sees us. Everyone has values. Organizations have values. Actions communicate values. Even thoughtless actions taken with little regard of one’s beliefs and standards communicate a value.

The failure to take a values-driven approach has ramifications for all responsible parties in the public relations process:

Some choose to flirt with or even to ignore the boundaries of ethics. Others, failing to pause and consider their organization’s core values, sometimes find themselves in the uncomfortable position of trying to place their actions in an ethical framework after the fact.

In short, there is no way that Weiner, Filner and Rodriguez could have done a good job with public relations once they came under the microscope since they were such poor practitioners when not being scrutinized. Their sense of “filters,” per the above, was non-existent. Public relations is not about eloquence or manipulation after the fact. It’s about reality before the fact. It’s about values in every aspect of the word–standards that must be commonly held, worthiness that must be delivered by politicians, athletes, executives, corporations and any other entity engaging the public.

About Jason William Karpf

Author, Professor, Nonprofit Pro, Four-Time Jeopardy Champ
This entry was posted in Bad PR Examples, Public Relations and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Three Examples of Bad PR: Q3, 2013

  1. Morris Grant says:

    You’ve got to own a problem…hold it close, understand it from both internal/external perspectives and with ‘outside help’ assess the damage it has the potential to cause. Very often ‘in house’ people are too close to an emerging issue to fully grasp the significance of it. They also have all sorts of concerns about their own positions. A ‘fresh eye’ coming in to advise has no obligations/concerns about a future career with the client. It’s simply honestly assessing what’s happening and producing a document…a route map…of how all eventualities can best be handled. MG

    • jasonkarpf says:

      Excellent points about the role of outside PR counsel. I’ve worked both sides–in-house and agency. During a crisis, objectivity and crisis comms experience are invaluable. It is often necessary to reach outside for these quantities.

  2. Julia Angelen says:

    I love your comment here, Jason: “Public relations is not about eloquence or manipulation after the fact. It’s about reality before the fact.”

    • jasonkarpf says:

      Always great to get positive feedback from a pro such as yourself. Unfortunately, many think of our profession as existing solely to “clean up the mess.” Even worse, those responsible for making the mess tend to hold this concept most dear.

  3. shannan guthrie says:

    This is a great post! Thank you for sharing. My favorite part…”Public relations is not about eloquence or manipulation after the fact. It’s about reality before the fact. It’s about values in every aspect of the word–standards that must be commonly held…” Well said!

    • jasonkarpf says:

      Thanks, Shannan. Per the textbook I cite, public relations must take a values-based approach. PR legend Al Golin has educated all of us in this with his simple, brilliant concept, “the trust bank.”

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