“I make my living off the evening news
Just give me something-something I can use
People love it when you lose
They love dirty laundry”
– Don Henley

We need dirty laundry

We need dirty laundry

This song popped into my head as I read this story from PRWeek about a “reputation management” program that was inadvertently e-mailed to a Greenwich Post reporter who filed a story about it.

A reputation management program? Just file that alongside the lions and tigers and bears (oh my!). Chilling, indeed.

Based on the article, it sounds as if the program, developed by John Adams Associates for the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), is built on standard public relations principles in use for decades (including, for that matter, by many media organizations who today find themselves in the unenviable position of having to communicate how and why they must shrink their news holes, newsrooms and news people. According to published reports, the CLIA program (which was a proposal that had not yet been accepted) called for: “travel agents and other industry ‘ambassadors’ who would help with outreach to members of Congress and be trained to reach out to local media.”

Pretty radical stuff, eh? Not to denigrate the Adams plan (which, in the spirit of full disclosure, I have not read in its entirety) or anything, but this sounds like a fairly straightforward plan of action that draws on time-tested public relations practices college freshman can find in PR 101. Most often what makes the difference between the success or failure of a plan is in its execution (at which the Adams group excels).

Well, the story became “news” (and BGO uses that word loosely here) when supporters of a bill to tighten regulation and reporting requirements on the cruise line industry sought to build awareness of this “secret” plan via outreach to local media and the use of ambassadors – including bill sponsor Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), who posted the plan on his Web site.

Hmmm . . .

Irony (like comedy and politics) is sometimes not a pretty sight.

For his part, Adams questioned the reporter’s “journalistic ethics” for reporting a story based on a document that he received accidentally. There’s certainly an argument to be made on both sides of that question, but the fact that seems overlooked here is whether what seems to be a standard public relations plan (developed by an excellent firm, I might add) to help an organization advocate its position on pending legislation is, in and of itself, newsworthy – especially when it arrived in a reporter’s hands purely by accident (so much for that legalese we call include on our messages: “If you have received this e-mail in error . . .”).

I think Mr. Henley may have said it best: “We all know that crap is king, Give us dirty laundry.”