PR Genius: Cleveland Kidnapping Survivors Release Video on YouTube

By on Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The May rescue of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight from years in captivity was miraculous, but it also ignited a media firestorm, with news crews camped outside the house where they were held, and their families shielding them from cameras and onlookers as they returned home as free women – free women who had lost years of their lives and endured horrible brutality.

The release today of a video on YouTube by the three young women – showing them looking well, filled with gratitude for the public’s support for their recovery,  and working toward their new lives was heartwarming.

It was also a stroke of PR genius. By releasing the video, the desire for the media and the public to take photos and videos of the women as they go about rebuilding their lives – was deflated like a balloon. Surely these young women and their families have had hundreds of media requests and have felt pursued by the press. Yet privacy and time are what these young women need, away from the spotlight, to pick up the pieces of their very shattered lives.

Amanda Berry repeats in her segment on the video how important having their privacy has been for their healing. By creating the video, they were able to share the messages they wanted to share, without the pressure of a news camera or someone asking questions about the traumas they have suffered. The young women come across as happy to be home with their families, looking forward in their lives, and even strong. They don’t talk about their captor or the years they suffered. Thanks to the Internet and video technology today, they’ve been able to control their own stories and share the messages they want to share, on their terms. Bravo.

When I have worked with trauma survivors in a difficult situation – I have sometimes recommended they consider sharing their story once with a major media outlet – in order to deflate media interest and put their story on the record once, for all. In a  situation like that, talking to the right reporter at the right news outlet is paramount, and the survivor is still forced to do a media interview and answer potentially wrenching questions. We’ve also sometimes managed a difficult situation by releasing a statement and requesting privacy for a family.

I like this approach using a video, which has made major news today and distributed their voices far and wide, without subjecting these trauma survivors to the stress that a media interview would surely bring. I’m sure we will see more people in difficult circumstances use this type of communications strategy going forward.

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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