As featured in today’s Bulldog Reporter, the following Op-Ed:

Social Media Relations Sinners or Winners? Hospital PR Pro Behaved Appropriately in Viral Video — But M.I.A.’s Tweet Missed the Mark

By Ronn D. Torossian, President and CEO, 5W Public Relations

Public relations professionals walk a difficult tightrope between serving clients who pay our bills and satisfying the media whom we usually have to convince to write about our clients. This is a delicate balance, and sometimes PR agencies (although we don’t often discuss it) are hired to keep our clients out of the media or deflect negative stories. We believe clients often hire us to protect them from the media, much as they would hire an attorney to protect them in legal proceedings.

A recent video making the rounds online—and attracting controversy—features an ABC San Francisco reporter, a PR representative for Laguna Honda Hospital (both male) and another hospital employee (female). The PR professional is being widely condemned for his behavior. I strongly disagree. Watch the video, and consider the following:

The reporter, a man, stands directly in the path of the shorter hospital administrator as she enters the room, and again as she tries to leave the room.

Using a camera as his bully pulpit, the reporter disrupts a planned meeting and follows the woman throughout the room and the hospital facilities as if he owns them.

If someone repeatedly blocked your way at work, what would you make of it? Additionally, both before the meeting and after, the reporter talks loudly over the woman, forcing her to repeat seven times that she is not available for an interview.

The PR pro appears to be doing his job: He didn’t raise his voice and, to my eyes, did all he could to deflect the reporter’s attention to himself. The PR professional is clearly an annoyance to the reporter. In the end, the PR person seems to have shut down the reporter’s planned ambush. (And doesn’t the reporter display a certain haughtiness?)

The spokesperson seemed to be protecting his staff (similar to how a good attorney would), and I for one fail to understand why one assumes that the media has the right to question people. Do people not have the right to “defend” themselves?

A completely separate controversy now surrounds the musical artist M.I.A., who was profiled this weekend by the New York Times Magazine in an article by Lynn Hirschberg. She subsequently tweeted to her over 111,000 followers the journalist’s cell phone number to express her displeasure at the reporter’s clearly negative story.

Wow! This is clearly harsh, and one can understand why M.I.A isn’t happy with the story. I’d ask why she did an interview regarding these issues? What was the artist trying to accomplish by allowing herself to be interviewed? I’d have suggested if she is concerned, why do the interview with the same journalist that wrote an extremely harsh article on Courtney Love (which also stirred up quite a bit of controversy)?

Clearly, this article will do quite a bit of lasting damage. Does M.IA. have any proof that the article is biased? Did she or her assistants record the interview (as we often do if we are entering sensitive interview ground)? If they did, they could then release interview segments showing its inaccuracy.

When dealing in the world of crisis communications, consider taping the interview and discussions for yourself (to guard yourself against a reporter’s possible agenda).

Understandably, Lynn Hirschberg called M.I.A.’s tweets “fairly unethical” and “infuriating.”

M.I.A. clearly misstepped. As an artist, M.I.A. may indeed have stepped over the boundary, but one wonders what the next moves from her PR team will look like.

Ronn Torossian is president and CEO of 5WPR, one of the 20 largest independent PR firms in the U.S. Named one of the top “40 Under 40” by PR Week & Advertising Age, Torossian is a semi-finalist for Ernst & Young 2010 Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and his PR agency works with a roster of iconic brands.

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