Learning From #PR Disaster: How to Avoid the Cairo Embassy’s Mistakes

By on Thursday, September 13, 2012
There’s an insightful and detailed “The Cable” article this morning looking at the public relations fiasco with a press statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo this week on the Foreign Policy website. The article examines the inner workings of the enormous PR flap created by a Cairo Embassy staffer who posted a press release and issued tweets that have drawn the attention of both presidential campaigns and a host of deputized spokespeople – in the midst of a horrific crisis. The Atlantic has also assembled a timeline for the events. The article offers some insight for public relations professionals trying to avoid mistakes. Here’s a few:
Always follow approval procedures on a news release (and if your boss expresses concerns and asks for major revisions, revise it) – a key error was made when the Cairo Embassy ignored requests by DC-based officials for “major” edits. HUGE screw-up – worth losing a job over.
If you don’t know the situation and it’s still developing, keep your early statements simple and clear – and be willing to change them. In an emergency situation or disaster, journalists know that sometimes initial reports or statements are modified or outright wrong. Say what you know and be clear, but don’t go overboard. If the situation changes, make a modification to your messaging, don’t continue to defend a bad message. Unfortunately, the Cairo embassy continued to defend the statement on Twitter, even after knowing the DC office’s opinion on its merits and request for revisions.

Realize that all parts of an organization are part of the messaging strategy – and that what one part says, impacts the rest. While nonprofits are often not as top-down or approval-driven in their media relations process as the federal government, as organizations they are still very vulnerable when local affiliates decide to issue a statement that is not in line with national guidance that attracts the attention of major press and spokespeople. The national level PR staff responsible for stewarding the overall nonprofit’s brand and messaging are often a big part of the clean-up. And it’s a two way street – local organizations are often expected to represent and mirror the opinions of the national office by the public and the press – even if their bonds to the national office or movement are not that tight. What one does, impacts the rest.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.







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