Homework before PR: important in any language

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In the spirit of the Stanley Cup, please pardon a post based on some current competitive fervor for our Canadian counterparts.  Usually I don’t have any animosity for our friendly, flannel wearing neighbors on the other side of the 49th parallel.  I’ve actually enjoyed my few trips north of the border, even when our hosts in Montreal skated circles around my youth hockey team.

Lately, however, a good portion of Canada is rooting against my hometown, and that is something I can not abide.  I am only too happy, then, to take this week’s example of what not to do in PR straight out of Quebec.  The lesson?  Never agree to an interview without first thoroughly understanding to whom you will be speaking.  The second lesson? If the name of your town is Asbestos, consider changing it.

On a recent episode of The Daily Show, reporter Aasif Mandvi traveled to Asbestos to interview several local officials, including Town Director George Gagne, and Bernard Coulombe, Executive Director of the Jeffrey Asbestos Mine.  Neither of the francophones had any idea they were going to be appearing on a program whose specialty is satire and which regularly mocks their guests.

For people in the asbestos industry I’ll make like Alex Burrows and take a bite at offering some advice for those who are about to sit down for an interview.  First, do your homework.  I’m sure one of the reasons the Daily Show had to go to Canada to find a willing guest is that few Americans were willing to go on camera with them.

At a minimum, take a look at some of the reporter’s previous work.  What is their style? Is it a straight forward, just the facts, ma’am approach, or do they play gotcha journalism?  What is their focus?  Does their reporting have a particular bent to it?

Secondly, especially if the name of your town and industry is synonymous with “slow, hacking death,” considering bringing on a professional to help with media training.  A trained public relations professional will be able to tell you that you might as well wear a Canadian tuxedo as a loud, obnoxious tie if you want to be taken seriously.

Additionally, have a strategy and a message, and then stick to it.  Make sure that strategy is more than just putting lipstick on a pig, however.  The fact that there are not bodies lying in the street does not mean mine workers, residents, and asbestos workers are not dying from a lifetime of inhaling your product.  Accentuate the positive and if you can’t eliminate the negative, at least acknowledge it, minimize it, and move back on to the message you want to give.

Finally, you don’t have to agree to every interview.  There are those, like Sully and Force, who look even more ridiculous when they board an international flight to watch their team get blown out, but they seem to revel in the media attention, even if it is negative.  An executive whose product may be responsible for a half million deaths can not afford to be so careless.  It appears that there are as many holes in Asbestos’ press office as there are in the Canucks’ defense.  Even Luongo should have been able to stop this one.

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