Headline Headaches: A Media Relations Lesson

To stay on top of issues for a financial services industry client, I scan the mostly staid daily industry newsletters. Once in a blue moon, however, a more interesting headline pops.  Like this one: “Fidelity Exec Talks of Sex, Drugs and Revolution”.

As a boomer, I was initially mildly intrigued by the reference to an ancient Ian Drury lyric. Then, as someone who advises companies on media relations, the intrigue turned into:

  1. Intense curiosity as to why on earth a senior Fidelity exec would be addressing those topics, and…
  2. Immediate empathy for Fidelity’s corporate communications director who was probably breathing into a paper bag at that very moment.

Upon a closer read, the story was rather innocuous.  In making a speech at a Chamber of Commerce meeting, the exec commented about how schools teach kids about birds and bees and provide education to keep them off drugs but don’t adequately educate them about money.  Fair enough, but did he have to couch his comments in such a colorful way?  Maybe his intention was to be provocative but Google this guy five years from now, and I’m sure the quote will still be there. After all, even today, several months post-event, a search on his name still reveals dozens of links. Go on – have a look!

Most of us would prefer to NOT have a headline like that linked to us for the rest our professional lives.  So, how can you avoid it?  To minimize the risk of being associated with a less-than-optimal phrase or a quote, first, think before you speak.  Don’t be flip.  Don’t be funny.  Metaphors and analogies are great but pick them carefully and test them on several other people to avoid embarrassment later on.

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