Privacy is an Anachronism in PR and Elsewhere: Act Accordingly

Posted on September 11, 2013 
Filed Under Media Training, Social Media

In an episode of “Family Guy,” Stewie is hobnobbing at a party when he announces that “you’re going to love this” as a prelude to a politically incorrect joke.

But before he says anything, he goes outside the door to see if the coast is clear. Then he runs out to the street to see if anybody is listening. Ditto at the beach and, for good measure, cow pasture.

Convinced he’s well out of earshot, Stewie scurries back to the party and says, “So these two black guys walk into a bar…” Of course, the instant he starts to tell the joke a black man pops out of a potted plant nearby and asks, “Hey, what are you guys talking about?”

I was reminded of the episode when I saw the picture of Senator John McCain playing poker on his iPhone during the Senate committee hearing on foreign relations discussing the potential use of force against Syria.

The picture, which was reportedly taken by a Washington Post photographer, is yet another indication of how we’re all just a click (or tweet) away from living in our own personal “Truman Show.

McCain probably thought he could squeeze in a few hands of online poker during the hearing and nobody would be the wiser.

Big mistake.

McCain, who tried to make light of the situation with a less-than-funny tweet, is probably still wiping the egg off his face. One of the most vocal supporters for the U.S. to take action against Syria, McCain’s gaffe during the hearing could cost him some credibility.

Call it a cautionary tale for communicators and the people they represent.

We’ve all heard the expression, “The Mic Is Always Hot.”

Now PR execs can deposit another aphorism into the memory bank: “The Camera Is Always On.”

As hand-held devices get more and more sophisticated and micro cameras become ubiquitous, PR pros need to be metaphysically aware of the growing potential of embarrassing themselves, their brands or their clients—and all of it being caught on camera or video.

As we adjust to an increasingly digital age, the only place that a PR pro (or senior executive) can speak freely is probably a hermetically sealed tank, and even that may be questionable.

The point here is not for communicators (and their clients) to play mum when they’re out in public or not be themselves; that wouldn’t come off too well with constituents. Plus, it would be bad for business.

But, unlike, say, five years ago, communicators can no longer take for granted that if they’re in a sealed-off environment their actions (like playing with their iPhone during an important meeting or making vituperative comments) will not somehow get recorded for the masses to misconstrue and/or ridicule.

Privacy may be going the way of the Edsel, of course, but you’re still in control of your actions. When you’re in the public domain, focus on the work at hand and don’t slide into behavior that would embarrass your mother. Don’t let the cameras win.

Follow Mathew Schwartz: @mpsjourno1

Comments

  • http://allpointspr.com/crisis-communications Jamie Izaks

    Oh man, Mccain’s PR firm must be happy about this one! Why do people forget that anything you do on technology will get noticed?

  • http://www.newsmakergroup.com Suzanne Mannion

    A cautionary tail for sure. This is an important discussion to have with our clients / internal leaders. They may be aware but not keeping it top of mind. Thanks for a useful article. http://www.newsmakergroup.com/blog/how-to-be-a-good-pr-agency/

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