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NPR’s Bad Press Coverage

Submitted by on March 10, 2011 – 7:39 pmNo Comment

NPR (National Public Radio) is making headlines and gaining press coverage most companies only dream of – plethora of blogs, special reports, and news breaking videos; on-going reports by all the major networks and cable networks; as well as, viral coverage in the dailies. Let’s be honest though, it’s not the kind of fanfare news headlines you want to be making: Juan Williams is fired; an undercover video is released showing NPR vice president Ron Schiller calling out Tea Party members as “racist” and “scary” (with a second video on its heels); and NPR CEO Vivian Schiller resigns.

This isn’t just “bad PR”, NPR now faces the reality of losing their federal funding – 90 million dollars of federal tax money each year.

The old rhetoric, “All publicity is good publicity” is simply not true; case in point.

As with any crisis PR situation, there are always PR lessons to be learned. Here are my top 3 from NPR:

1.)    Know the Public Perception of your Brand Image – NPR stands by the fact that they aren’t liberal, biased, or elitist, but clearly the public sees differently. “Since his ouster Williams has becoming something of a symbol for those who’ve come to dislike NPR’s “elitist” aesthetic,” according to The Atlantic Wire. Also, ‘Talk of the Nation’ defended PBS against being liberal elitism by clarifying that Ron Schiller had been commuting to NPR headquarters on his own dime – from Aspen, where he lives with his domestic partner. What part of that statement doesn’t sound liberal or elitist? By knowing the public’s perception of your brand (note: this requires actually listening to the public), you can begin to assess if what’s being said is true: is that who you are, what you want to be known for, and if not, take the steps necessary to fix it.

2.)    Own Up to The Truth – NPR has repeatedly said that they had no intention of accepting money from this pretend organization. ‘The fraudulent organization represented in this video repeatedly pressed us to accept a $5 million check, with no strings attached, which we repeatedly refused to accept,’ said NPR spokeswoman Dana Davis Rehm. However, as reported by the Huffington Post, “Betsy Liley’s conversations clearly don’t jive with anyone’s idea of a ‘repeated refusal’”.  Regardless, in every case, it’s always best to come out with all the facts as quickly as possible making it easier for people to forgive mistakes and move on.

3.)    Say Only What You Want To Read in Print – This is a basic, fundamental principle we tell clients when media training. The reality is that in today’s new media landscape, where everything is found readily online, this principle spreads far beyond the reach of having a conversation with one person. The truth is if you don’t want to end up reading it somewhere/someday, then don’t say it! Ever!

I have a feeling that more information will unfold for NPR in the next several days and weeks. Will life go on for NPR? Sure. Will NPR survive this? Yes. Will people forgive them? Probably. But not without some embarrassment, firings, and funding withdrawn along the way.