Spin: How to Turn the Power of the Press to Your Advantage
The authors describe how an individual or organization suddenly found in the public spotlight can use the media--which is driven entirely by human motives--as an ally in presenting an intelligent image
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The spin doctor of restructuring
By Matthew Garrahan in Los Angeles
Published: March 16 2010 23:24 | Last updated: March 16 2010 23:24 in FTMike Sitrick was never supposed to work in public relations. As a young man he wanted to be a journalist and worked briefly as a reporter when, in 1969, he found himself in talks with the Chicago Tribune about a job paying $125 a week.
He also received an offer worth $160 a week working in PR at the University of Maryland, where he had studied. “I said to my wife: ‘I love journalism but I’d rather eat,’ ” he recalls.
The companies, celebrities and other clients that have relied on Mr Sitrick’s skills since he founded his own firm in 1989 after working at various businesses in-house, will be glad he chose the career he did. From his headquarters in the heart of Los Angeles, Sitrick and Company has carved out a lucrative niche offering crisis advice for embattled companies and celebrities who have found themselves in the media’s cross-hairs.
Mr Sitrick has a book bursting with media contacts and is the spin doctor’s spin doctor, helping clients cope with extreme media scrutiny and advising them how to tell their side of the story. He says, however, PR is about much more than stories in newspapers. “We ask the client: who do you want to communicate with? Is it customers, employees, suppliers?”
His talents are summed up in the title of his 1998 book Spin: How to Turn the Power of the Press to your Advantage. But although most of his firm’s work is for businesses in trouble, he is probably best known for his celebrity work. Clients are often controversial – such as Chris Brown, the singer who was arrested after assaulting his pop star girlfriend Rihanna, or Michael Vick, the NFL quarterback who briefly became one of America’s most reviled men for his involvement in a dog-fighting ring.
“We represent people trying to get their lives back in order,” says Mr Sitrick. “I have to believe that even if they have done something wrong they are trying to turn their life around – or that allegations against them are false.”
In his own words
On Mike Sitrick’s celebrity clients:
“We represent people who are trying to get help to get their lives back on track. We’re selective in our representation. I have to believe that even if the client has done wrong they are trying to turn their life around – or that the allegations against them are false.”
On his approach to public relations:
“When dealing with a crisis, some PR firms tell their clients that the best response is no response. I think that’s a huge mistake. You have to engage with reporters. You have to at least find out what the reporter wants or whether they have the right facts.
“The cardinal rule in PR that you can never break is that you must never lie. All we have is our credibility and as soon as we lose that we’re not effective. We have walked away from clients because we found out they lied to us.
“Smoke and mirrors is not effective PR. You have to identify the problem and take steps to solve it.”
On why he works with celebrities, as well as companies:
“The entertainment side of our practice gives us leverage that no purely corporate firm can have with mainstream media . . . because we are the gatekeepers for some of the biggest stories.”
The celebrity work generates headlines but it is his corporate clients that generate most of the firm’s revenues – more than 90 per cent, according to Mr Sitrick. “I like to say we range from Thomas H Lee [the private equity billionaire] to Tommy Lee [the Mötley Crüe drummer and Pamela Anderson’s ex-husband].” The company does not disclose its profits but in the past 12 months revenues were about $25m (€18.2m, £16.5m), he says.
His corporate work ranges from shaping the PR strategy for Exxon when it was being pummelled by negative headlines in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, to advising the late Roy Disney and Stanley Gold when he orchestrated their campaign to
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