Rodney King: Few Answers, One Important Question

 Rodney King: Few Answers, One Important Question

The PR Verdict: B (Good Show) for Rodney King.

Rodney King was never an easy hero to love. The man who became a symbol of racial tensions that led to a week of deadly riots in Los Angeles twenty years ago was found dead in his pool last weekend after living a complicated life. The media has been trying hard to recap that life, but what seems to have had the most resonance in the national discussion were five simple words that became a philosophical plea.

Rodney King was no PR dream. After publishing a memoir in April, his life was an open book of drug and alcohol abuse. Arrested multiple times, he told the LA Times that he blamed politicians and lawyers “for taking a battered and confused addict and trying to make him into a symbol for civil rights.” He was in every way the reluctant activist.

While the reluctant activist in life, his death has provoked widespread debate about race relations. King’s famous quote at the time of the riots,” Can we call get along?” is the tag line that followed him. He is remembered for what he said, but perhaps he should be remembered for what he asked.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Rodney King and his legacy. Despite complicated personal circumstances, with one simple question he opened up a conversation that continues after his death.

PR Takeaway: Sometimes asking a question has more impact than answering one.  For a man whose chaotic ups and downs have been tracked by the media over the last twenty years, King’s press coverage was noticeably respectful and thoughtful. The statement he made at a packed news conference, pleading for calm at the time of the riots, became not only a headline but a philosophical question. A presumably unplanned PR moment, but one with staying power.

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What’s your PR Verdict on the media’s coverage of Rodney King, both in life and at the time of his passing? Leave a comment, below.

Better Damage Control for Bryson?

 Better Damage Control for Bryson?By anyone’s standards, U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson has had a difficult past few days. News reports have been filled with tales of the senior government official rear-ending a car, driving away, and then crashing into a second car before police found him alone and unconscious in the Los Angeles suburbs.  What happened? Is there a scandal to be uncovered?

Having apparently suffered a seizure in his car while driving alone, he hit the headlines after being cited for felony hit-and-run. Instead of being booked in jail, he was taken to an area hospital for medical attention. That’s when the media went from excited to very excited.

The first thing his PR pointed out was that “Secretary Bryson was involved in a traffic accident” and that he suffered a “seizure.” While the official police comment was “The investigation is in its preliminary stages,” Bryson’s spokesperson quickly said that drugs and alcohol did not appear to have been a factor in the two alleged hit-and-run crashes.” So far, so good PR–but how else could the volume and excitement be turned down on this story?

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the PR handling of Bryson’s car accident. A clear and straightforward approach efficiently done. We’re withholding a top grade as one crucial element was missing…

PR Takeaway: Adding non-official voices to any incident softens the story. The problem with the PR response so far is that it remains in the realm of a police investigation. Take the story in another direction: Have a statement issued by his four daughters. The family is rallying around their father whose recovery is now the number one priority. Reiterate collective relief that no one was hurt and use a term other than “ investigation.” Far better to confirm Bryson is assisting with inquires and focusing on rest and a quick recuperation. Thanks for your kindness and understanding, case closed.

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