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When Tragedy and Publicity Intersect

January 11, 2011 at 2:33 pm

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When 9/11 happened I remember being asked by a number of authors if I would contact the media with their responses to this unprecedented tragedy.  My first reaction was disbelief. They presented to me a myriad of ways that their book(s) tied into the news of the day. They would make their contribution to help the country heal. Their intentions were good, but in my estimation, their timing, quite inappropriate. I’m pretty sure I declined every request.

So, when I checked my email on Sunday, I had a similar queasiness in my stomach when I opened messages from Inside Edition, The CBS Evening News, Channel 7 News Miami, and other news programs asking if I had a copy of Faces of Hope: Babies Born on 9/11 to send their way. It was unbelievable to learn that young Christina Taylor Green who had just lost her life in the Arizona shooting was one of the babies featured in our book.

Before I got into the office on Monday morning, The Today Show, Good Morning America, The New York Times, the AP, and most other news wire services had already shown the cover of the book and mentioned it  in their stories  about the Arizona tragedy. Every time Christina was mentioned, so was the book.

Should I be happy about this? Would HCI get some sales from all this attention? I was uncomfortable with all of it but first and foremost about the tragedy itself. I knew it wasn’t the nature of HCI to exploit a situation like this.

We did tell our customers about the media attention. I told my Facebook friends and the people on a memorial page for Christina that the book could be gotten from HCI since it sold out on amazon.com. We did “Kindle-ize” the book within hours. I thought these things were important since people were searching to learn more about Christina and subsequently the book.

I may even send a press release today sending HCI’s sympathies. I’m even still wrestling with this idea. Will it look exploitative? It’s sad how our world intersected with Christina’s but like it or not, it did.

As a publicist, there really is no blanket answer as how to react to crises. It’s always a case by case situation that needs careful review. But, generally, I find it (and we as a company find it) best to take the reactive rather than proactive position. To stay in the bounds of decency and taste.To answer questions when asked.

It may be a tad hypocritical to even post this piece but I needed to get out of my body the conflicted feelings I experience as a publicist.  When tragedy strikes our role as “media hounds” becomes ambiguous. I’m sure some leap forward and others remain more passive (like me).  I don’t think there is a wrong or right in these cases.

For now, I stay busy responding to queries about the book, talk to the author to make sure she’s comfortable speaking to the media, if asked, and go about my day struggling for media attention for the rest of my authors.

Ironic, isn’t it?

B645 Faces Hope Cover

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Comments (4)

4 Comments »

    Your post is proof you acted with your heart–as usual. It’s really hard to go wrong when you do that.

    Comment by SeanFebruary 22, 2011 @ 8:35 am

    It’s so true that we sometimes don’t know how far to go with linking a news hook to our own PR. In this awful instance, I commend your sensitivity to remaining totally reactive to the interest in your author’s book because of the Arizona tragedy. Promoting the tie in would have bordered on the obscene. You did the best thing in the circumstance.

    Comment by Judy MandelJanuary 11, 2011 @ 8:31 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Elisabeth. We did talk about that yesterday and originally, we did donate partial proceeds to a fund related to 9/11. So, we’re on the same page. thanks.

    Comment by KimJanuary 11, 2011 @ 3:46 pm

    Glad to read this entry, as I was a bit befuddled when I saw your facebook posting yesterday. Perhaps the simplest way to overcome the publicity-in-adversity conundrum is have HCI offer the proceeds from the book sale for the year (or something) go to start some sort of memorial (be it a scholarship or something similar) in the young girl’s name. Granted, we all know that the proceeds from the sales may not amount to much (once all the hype subsides) but it’s the thought that counts.

    Comment by ElisabethJanuary 11, 2011 @ 3:22 pm

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