Memorable Moments in TV History through the Eyes of a PR Pro

By Julie Staadecker

The Tiger Woods “cheaters” press conference. OJ’s car chase. Lebron flaking on Cleveland for Miami. Ashlee Simpson lip synching. Ms. South Carolina talking about “US Americans.” All notable, and in some cases comical, televised moments that arguably killed the reputations of people involved. But picking the top 5 PR Moments in TV history is tough. Here are some that stand out for their lasting impacts:

BP Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

  • The Story: In 2010, BP’s drilling on the Gulf Coast led to an explosion of a sea-floor oil gusher, destroying the area’s ecosystem and economy as well as dealing a crushing blow to the company’s reputation that they’re still working to repair. As we all know, the spill flowed unabated for three months, all of it caught on camera. What also followed the initial explosion was public outcry and hatred aimed at BP. Celebs, environmentalists and every day people publicly blamed BP for the disaster.
  • PR Factor: In an attempt to turn this PR disaster around, BP has since given $20 billion to compensate victims and clean up. Yet despite its best efforts, the public perception of BP is permanently and irrevocably marred, in much part due to the constant stream of televised news and attacks aimed at the company, whose stocks plummeted.

Apple Introduces…Anything

  • The Story: Most of us can probably remember the original commercials for iPods. I was so excited to buy my first edition model and recall iPods becoming a status symbol amongst my friends. At the time, no one knew the giant that “iEverything” would become. It’s rare to meet someone who doesn’t have an iPad, iPhone or iPod (or all three!) these days and the buzz for every new Apple product spurs lines out their doors.
  • PR Factor: Besides capitalizing on the cool factor of being the first and possibly the best to market, through top-tier media coverage Apple continues pioneering new developments that they strategically “leak” information on to create PR hype. They reach consumers (particularly early adopters and tech-savvy customers) via televised reviews and exciting, fun ads, helping earn Apple ranking as one of the most buzzed about companies in existence.

 Bill Clinton’s “Sexual Relations”

  • The Story: During President Bill Clinton’s administration, accusations of infidelity with Monica Lewinsky plagued the headlines. While many political figures have been accused of cheating, Clinton originally stated in a televised press conference, “I did not have sexual relations with the woman.”
  • PR Factor: This turned into a PR disaster when the truth about the affair came out, because Americans felt his lie, broadcast across the nation, reached them directly.  Cries for impeachment rang out and despite positive and negative opinions on Clinton’s political decisions, the remainder of his career was marked by the public denial of his indiscretion.

 Katie Couric Kills Sarah Palin’s Career

  • The Story: We’ve seen that a bad interview or debate can crush a politician’s ratings and votes. But the one that stands out for resoundingly smashing someone’s career is Katie Couric’s interview of Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin during the 2008 election.
  • PR Factor: In plain terms, this interview was a PR pros absolute nightmare. All the research, preparation and practice shot straight out the window the moment Sarah Palin began the interview. President Barack Obama and Joe Biden must have been high fiving during this televised discussion as Sarah Palin  showed that she was  naïve to matters of governmental history and public affairs.  And you know you have royally screwed up when SNL makes an awesomely bad skit of the interview.

Natural Disaster Mobilizes TV Viewers

  • The Story: The Japanese tsunami, Brisbane floods, Haiti Earthquake and Hurricane Katrina are among recent natural disasters that rank most publicly covered in the news. TV stations in the US and abroad broadcast shocking images and video of each of these disasters and their victims.
  • PR Factor: While the events were devastating, viewer response was tremendously positive. Hundreds of charities, thousands of volunteers and millions of dollars of donations poured in as direct response to the news coverage. The impact of mobilized help efforts on these disasters show that TV, while criticized for making people lazy, can also be a powerful motivator for change.

Overall learnings from reviewing these moments in TV history? Honesty, transparency and knowledge are key to successful reputation management, especially when it comes to what’s in the public eye. Whether you love or hate TV, there’s no denying that it forms and shapes public opinion and action and can lead to overwhelming PR success or disaster for people and companies featured.

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