What PuRpose?

      45 Comments on What PuRpose?

darren wilsonThere will be many more chapters written as Americans come to terms with the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, who was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9 by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. In addition to the many ramifications of the incident and events following the grand jury’s decision, the government, law enforcement and public relations mistakes made surrounding this tragedy have been many. One of these may be a decision by Wilson to be interviewed on ABC in the midst of rioting that followed the grand jury announcement.

We often study the PR mistakes made during tragic situations. Sometimes they occur when someone in charge uses the wrong words. BP CEO Tony Hayward told a reporter, “I’d like my life back” after a 2010 rig explosion caused several workers’ deaths and the Gulf of Mexico to be overcome with crude oil. This was an example of a leader who was unprepared and inappropriate when pushed into the media spotlight.

During a hauntingly similar incident in 1989, Exxon CEO Lawrence Rawl was loudly criticized when he waited a week to react to a major oil spill in Alaska, leading The New York Times to correctly predict “…the Exxon Valdez episode will become a textbook example of what not to do when an unexpected crisis thrusts a company into the limelight.” Among its many errors, leadership waited too long to respond and blamed others for the spill and slow clean-up efforts, creating the impression that they were uncaring and callous.

Inappropriate words and poor timing can elevate a crisis. Why no one stopped Officer Wilson from being interviewed as demonstrations turned violent made little sense. His comments during the TV appearance (“The reason I have a clean conscience is that I know I did my job right”) only served to inflame the anger as did his on-air description of Brown’s last moments.

Wilson should have been advised–maybe even ordered–to stay quiet last week. What purpose was served by going public, especially as public disdain was boiling over? Was it a poor judgement? Bad PR? Your thoughts?

 

P.S. Just prior to this posting it was learned that Officer Darren Wilson resigned from the Ferguson Police Department.

45 thoughts on “What PuRpose?

  1. Jennifer Im

    I can understand why officer Wilson wanted an opportunity to make his perspective known, but the timing for the interview was off. With escalating violence in the protests, it was a poor choice to add fuel to the fire by saying he had a “clear conscience.” I’m not saying he needed to apologize, but when the crowd with pitchforks is demanding one, you don’t say the opposite of what they want. Regardless, I respect the man for sticking to his guns and keeping his message consistent and clear, despite the pressure from the opposition.

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  2. Erik Freitas

    It was definitely bad PR not just for Wilson but for police everywhere when he came out on TV and proclaimed his lack of regret for killing Michael Brown in the street in broad daylight. I think that the police should have ordered him not to appear on camera until well after the investigation was completed. That interview is being used in many anti-police videos around the country, and is helping to fuel protesters’ anger everywhere. If he had kept quiet, then his public image wouldn’t have been destroyed further than it already was, and maybe the police would have had more time to attempt to remedy the situation. The press is always looking out to expose stories, but when those stories need to go on hold, it is the job of PR practitioners to realize that. I find it hard to believe that Ferguson police didn’t have some type of PR person in their employment after this killing.

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  3. Gabrielle Furman

    I feel like in the public relations industry timing is everything. When an incident occurs the public obviously wants a statement to hear what the other side of the story is or what the public was thinking was wrong. However, I feel like what is said and how it is said matters. When the officer spoke he did it at bad timing and didn’t show any remorse. I do feel that if he spoke or not the public made up their mind about how they felt and it went going to change.

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  4. agionesi

    I may be wrong, but I’m going to disagree with the majority of the comments here. Without trying to get too into my own thoughts on the matter, when I saw Wilson’s interview I felt stronger in my belief that he has done nothing wrong. Maybe the public would have like to seen him more remorseful over the death of a young man, but when it comes down to it, this young man was a criminal that attacked him. To be honest, I 100% support police officers defending themselves. However, if Wilson had waiting until the anger cooled down a bit, maybe he wouldn’t have received such a negative response. But, I thought it was raw, honest, and what people need to hear even if they don’t want to.

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  5. Whitney Shepherd (@WhitneyPRGirl)

    As PR professionals we focus on the image of our client and how they will be reviewed by the public. I am sure that Officer Wilson was aware of the jury’s decision before the announcement was made to the public. When Wilson found out about this and could have assumed that the general public wasn’t going to be thrilled, the best thing to do would’ve been to stay quiet. I do agree that an interview should have been done maybe a couple days later, but not at the same exact time as the parents of Michael Brown found out there would be no justice for the child. On such a touchy topic to the public, the officer and his legal team and PR should have chose to wait. Especially in this case where many of the public find him guilty and he doesn’t want to be judged as being in sensitive too.

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  6. Devin Jaffar

    I believe that this was a very bad idea. The riot is presently going on and to put officer Wilson on an interview with ABC is a horrible idea. People are protesting Michael Brown’s death and their constitutional rights as American citizens. To put officer Wilson on TV or even interviewing him is a slap on the face for any citizen because for him to say he was doing his job and doing the right thing when people are protesting Michael Brown’s life is making a joke out of someone’s life.

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  7. michaela marano

    A major aspect of good PR, especially in crisis management and dealing with the public, is making sure that every move is made with precise thought. Wilson’s choice to go public wasn’t necessarily a bad idea, however considering the recent events, he should have been very thoughtful with his comment and in this case he wasn’t. He has a right to defend himself but his word choice and tone did nothing but add fuel to the fire. To say that he “has a clean conscious” was not smart considering Ferguson, MO has literally gone up in flames, protests have risen in every inch of the nation, and a family is mourning a loss of a loved one. The old saying “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all” may have been beneficial here.

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  8. sophia1212

    It was certainly poor judgement and bad PR, but how can we expect better from someone who has a clean conscience after killing a teenager? There were riots taking place, and he is going on national TV to defend himself.

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  9. bibianabogues

    I believe that Wilson should have kept quiet during this time because what he would say would only add more controversy. In many situations what people say to the public can backfire and hurt them personally or toward their career, therefore I believe people really need to think before they speak. Understanding that what you say might mean one thing to you but could be taken in various ways to other people is key to public speaking and good PR. You have to say the right thing at the right time, which obviously is easier said than done in the heat of the moment. Either way, I don’t think Wilson should have been interviewed at that time.

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  10. Sarah Abuharaz

    I agree that Officer Wilson made a huge mistake on agreeing to be interviewed. Not only did he make that poor judgement, his words were not chosen carefully. He was not wise in what he said. He added more fuel to the fire which is already an outraged nationwide issue. Who was in their right mind to allow this interview to happen in the midst of thousands of angry protests and riots?

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  11. laurelroseo

    With something s newsworthy and a big as Ferguson, I would have advised the officer to remain quite, at least while riots where still occurring. Also, a video interview ma have made his words too personal. A simple release of his statements from the trial may have done the job, regardless you can’t try to manage a crisis like this until you are sure you are not adding more firewood to the flame. In this case the timing of his interview and certain word choices were not appropriate and seemed to propel the crisis further.

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  12. kcormi2

    It is understandable why Wilson would feel inclined to go public and tell his side of the story; he probably wanted people to see why he did what he did in the situation. However, often times people use words in a way that create a message different from the one that was originally intended. This is why sometimes it is better to say nothing at all than to say the wrong thing in a time of crisis and unrest.

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  13. Deana Meccariello

    I can see why Wilson would want to go public in an attempt to clear his name and have people see him in a better light. However, it was terrible judgement on the part of the police department to allow him to speak with any media at all. Maybe in a few months or years, but right now it is to sensitive a topic to speak about so publicly.

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  14. elizah9

    I have been paying close attention to this case with my eyes glued to the television screen. From everything I have seen and heard, it is clear that people are outranged by the actions of Officer Wilson. Protesters are so angry with this entire situation that they have set buildings on fire, packed the streets, and attacked police cars. This is not just any case; this is a case that has Americans screaming for justice. With that being said, I feel that Wilson shouldn’t have gone public. He should have at least waited for the protesting to claim down and come well prepared for the interview. Instead, he seemed like he wasn’t even trained properly for it. As a whole, speaking to the media about an incident is not always the best way to handle a situation. this is highlighted in both this and the BP incident.

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  15. Daniel Walsh

    I certainly believe that Wilson was in the right in his actions but I do not believe he was in the right in regards to this interview. All he did was hurt himself with his comments and now wherever he goes this will stick to him even more so.

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  16. Vanessa Felder

    This is a very sensitive topic, and it sickens me when people like WIlson show no remorse for their actions. Frankly, I think that Wilson should have kept quiet and stayed out of the media. His statement on his “conscience being clear” was a clear indication that he had no media training. All this statement did was add fuel to the fire.

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  17. Doug Gillies

    Wilson’s decision was one of bad judgement and it was bad PR by the police department. The department should have ordered Officer Wilson to keep out of the news. You would think the department would be in close contact with him on how to act and handle himself after the decision was made. I can understand his mistake on speaking to the public but the department should have prevented it.

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  18. nixablevins

    The interview simply added flame to a fire. If Wilson chose to do the interview after people were able to mourn, more people might have given him a chance to change their minds and take his side. When so many people are angry, it is hard to say anything that will make them feel better. Especially coming from the one person who caused the anger. Wilson should have let the issue cool down. I doubt that Wilson had a public relations professional behind him. 

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  19. audiatkins

    It’s because the media and the world we live in, people would do anything to obtain and release a statement by Officer Wilson, in this day in age it is inevitable. Also, imagine the public outrage if he chose to keep quiet. It is a double edged sword. However, forbidding someone to speak out, regardless of a situation or crisis is completely absurd.

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  20. danielle32493

    I honestly don’t think timing would have made any difference. It is now a week later and the decision is still being discussed and protested. For example, I think that even if Wilson had waited until this week to make a comment, there still would have been backlash and riots. Wilson could have chosen better words to use in his interview. I know that he meant it was his right to shoot since his life was in danger, however, his words came off a bit insensitive.

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  21. Danielle

    I believe he had every right to speak when he did. In situations like this, whatever he would have done would have been criticized. Waiting to hold the interview would have just lengthened this crisis. He spoke when his emotions were raw and real and I think that is a perfect time to get a truthful interview.

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  22. Jessica Vallario

    Situations like this really make me wish we were all blind to race. Although I agree whole-heartedly that Officer Wilson should have remained silent, the man still has every freedom and right to speak his mind freely. Riots were bound to take place regardless of any interview that may have been published after the court made it’s decision. Perhaps if the case had gone to trial for the public to view, the public reaction would not have been so extreme. I think its ridiculous to hold Officer Wilson’s statements accountable as the sole reason the streets of Ferguson broke out in violence and looting.

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  23. Sarah Lopez

    Darren Wilson’s interview definitely added fuel to the fire. I think the interview was done in poor judgment as well. The public’s reaction to the decision should have been a hint for Wilson to remain quiet. I think the interview would have been more useful at a later date. Also, in regards to the interview, I believe that some media training would have been useful for Darren Wilson. His lawyers or someone else that was close to the case should have provided him with the appropriate things to say while on camera. Darren Wilson obviously has his own views on the case but I think he came across as insensitive in some cases. At the end of the day, it is important to remember that Michael’s Brown family is watching the interview and is mourning over the loss of their son. Everyone has their own opinion about the case but I think Darren Wilson should have presented himself and his thoughts on the case in a more respectful manner.

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  24. mconno25

    I think the only thing that went wrong with Officer Darren Wilson’s interview was timing. I think his statement was not only true but professional. As an officer, Wilson was just doing his job and the evidence and facts prove it. Since most people believe Michael Brown’s death was because of the color of his skin and didn’t agree with the verdict, the timing of the interview was poor. The interview and announcement of the verdict shouldn’t have been anywhere near each other, but they were days apart. So, yes it was bad PR because timing is very important for any public relations work to be successful.

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  25. jheiden1

    This whole Ferguson issue would have fueled fire regardless of how Wilson reacted. The public was angry. If Wilson kept quiet, he would be a coward. If he spoke up, he would be a careless, unapologetic mad man. With any controversial event, it is difficult to know how to handle PR. I think Wilson’s intentions were good, but his response only made the public more upset.

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  26. fcolav1

    I would have to say that since the announcement of the grand jury this past week there has been nothing but uproar. I figured either way, no matter what the decision was, there was going to be chaos and many upset, but I never thought it would be to this extent. This is when PR professionals really need to step in and do everything they can to not make things worse. That is why I would have to agree with many of the comments below, and say that by Wilson not keeping quiet was the wrong decision. He 100% should have been advised/ordered to stay quiet last week. If he personally felt he needed to say something then he could have waited a week or two until things calmed down. There was no need to rush a statement from him at all, especially when it would only fuel peoples fired. Also, I agree with Jessica in the sense that the announcement of the grand jury should NOT have been at night! I think things could have been a little more controlled in the day.

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  27. Meredith O'Connor

    I agree in the idea of Wilson “Staying Quiet.” Although there is a gap of knowledge that people will want to fill, it would have been better had he taken the time to think of a better way to handle it.

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  28. nikkigyftopoulos

    I definitely think that people need to learn from the multiple PR mistakes of the past that you mentioned. A company or person should be transparent in the midst of a crisis, but putting an ill-prepared or insensitive spokesperson in the limelight is unnecessary. I definitely think it was poor judgment and terrible timing for Wilson to be interviewed. The nation is in uproar and people would only take this interview negatively no matter what the officer says. On top of that, this interview was not going to further Wilson’s position in any way. he should have just stayed low for awhile and waited to speak on the incident until the uproar died down.

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  29. Gia Palomo

    I honestly think that it was bad judgement on his part combined with a mixture of bad PR. He definitely should not have gone on TV but stayed quiet until everything blew over and when it comes to such a sensitive topic, he should’ve have been aware of his words and chosen them wisely. If anything concerning someone’s life, he should’ve have shown regret and maybe then people would be more sympathetic to his cause.

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  30. Laura L.

    I believe that in times of crisis it is best to be prepared. All situations and angles should be analyzed and proper plans should be in place so that whichever outcome may occur, it will be handled in the best way possible. At any given moment, a person should know what to say and how, and when to keep quiet and when to speak up.

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  31. Jessica Braveman

    The entire situation surrounding this incident has been a disaster. The night of the announcement to not indict Wilson was filled with bad PR decisions, including announcing their decision at night, calling in the National Guard before any fighting broke out, not sending the the National Guard to the proper areas, and allowing Wilson to make a statement/give an interview himself. I think the decision to give an interview was extremely misguided, especially when they knew that so many people would be upset by the decision. The interview probably only fueled protesters further.

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  32. Alexis Stringfellow

    As outsiders looking in, we cannot
    know if Wilson was actually making an effort to clear the air on what truly happened. Yet given the irrational and violent behavior that is occurring in Ferguson, his interview could only exacerbate the problem. His action to go on air could not be controlled from a PR standpoint because he had recently resigned from the police force. Wilson was not looking to make a censored statement that would tread lightly. He wanted to express directly to the public his first hand account, not considering the potential ramifications following the interview.

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  33. Natalia Dutt

    Though he was very “professional” during this interview I definitely think that it was in poor taste. With all of the drama surrounding the Ferguson shooting and the outcome of Wilson’s trial, I think he should have avoided being interviewed so closely after the outcome. The police’s PR people (if they have a set pr team) should have realized what kind of havoc would have come of this interview.

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  34. Courtney Zanosky

    I do not personally believe that the officer said anything wrong in his interview. I think he was actually quite professional, calm, and valid in his statement. I know there are many people that would disagree with me but I do not think there was anything wrong with his interview. Should he have waited, from a public relations viewpoint? Probably. But I actually enjoyed hearing what he had to say at the time he did.

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  35. nicole_lombardo

    I was in NYC last Tuesday night when the city “stampede” up Broadway occurred, protesting the courts decision and shaming the officer for his actions. I say stampede because it is defined as, “A mass movement of people at a common impulse” and that is what I witnessed. A stampede is also defined as an impulsive action that can not be stopped. With that being said, I feel that the officers words didn’t have any consequences that the court decision did not have already. These people were going to protest and act as they wanted no matter what. The officer spoke to defend himself. These angered citizens were going to cause a raucous no matter what he said in his interview because they were brought together by a “common impulse.”

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  36. maxeisenberg8

    Doing an interview was definitely a bad idea, especially amidst the rioting going on at the time. Whoever scheduled the interview clearly did not realize that it would only add fuel to the fire. I would have at least waited until things cooled down and would have suggested that he say as little as possible that one would believe would anger the public.

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  37. Rebecca Costa

    I think the biggest mistake that Officer Wilson made was the comment about having a “clear conscience.” I was watching Dancing the the Stars on Monday night when the program was interrupted and the decision was aired to the nation. I was conflicted as to whether or not I agreed with the decision, but when Wilson made the clear conscience comment, it frankly made me upset because he had killed a human being and didn’t feel guilty about it. I think that was the PR mistake, if he had shown some sympathy, then people maybe wouldn’t have been so upset with him. Either way, I don’t think he can ever serve as a police officer in Ferguson, or anywhere else for that matter.

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  38. Jenna Delio

    I think that if he was going to say anything to defend himself it should have happened sooner, not after the jury found him not guilty. After that decision was made there were a lot of unhappy individuals and by even going public in the manner that they did was not a smart decision. Also someone should have definitely coached Wilson on what not to say because I don’t think that he said the right thing at all regarding how he felt and what happened when the shooting occurred. Sadly, we see a lot poor PR decisions when it comes to crisis situations.

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  39. meghanazralon

    Officer Wilson should have never done an interview. I think it was bad PR and I feel that someone, not necessarily Wilson himself, thought it was a good idea to to an interview because of the high profile of the case. A previous commentator referred to President Obama’s speech that evening and I believe that was a bad move as well. I didn’t feel is necessary for the president to come out and address the matter. The recent events have been PR hiccups and could have been avoided.

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  40. bharran

    The points you made in this post are exactly what I thought of as I watched the news on Ferguson and the interview Officer Wilson. The first bit of information I even saw of the interview was on Twitter and a quote from him saying that he would do it all over again (meaning he would shoot again). To me, although I agree with Officer Wilson not being charged, those words were a little insincere based on the events that were happening in Ferguson at that time. There was many other ways he could have expressed how he felt or maybe even not done such a high profile interview like that in the midst of all those protests. Good PR is the make or break of any situation and I think Officer Wilson only fueled the Ferguson flame.

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  41. Lyndi Catania

    I agree that Wilson should have remained quiet. Staying quiet can sometimes make a crisis worse, but in this case it is what should have been done. Choosing the wrong words to say or taking responsibility too late is also an issue. It all comes down to the right speaker and being prepared.

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  42. Ashley Iadanza

    It’s funny now that every time I see a news story, or a commercial, I’ll be thinking about PR and what those people could have done better. I feel that the efforts as far as whoever would be considered the PR people in this scenario, could have done a LOT better with handling the situation.

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  43. Areanna Rufrano

    This whole situation is just one big mess. And Wilson’s interview only added fuel to the fire. I feel that his resignation was inevitable, but his interview might not have been necessary. Even if he provided good sincere responses, the public is very passionate about this sensitive situation and might not have found it to be believable. The public is also taking issue with law enforcement and the government who have also made some bad PR moves. Many people, including myself, found Obama’s national address to be cold, unprepared, and unmoving. Needless to say, the Ferguson is not going away anytime soon and there needs to be more than just good PR to settle the situation.

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  44. msalluringpr

    I believe the officer should have remained quiet until all the anger has cooled. Right now the pain is too raw and numerous protestors across the country are beyond angry. Its frightening how the emotions are running at this moment. I believe that once everything settles, he should have opted to give an interview with Time magazine to give his side of the story. I will admit that seeing him on television upset Me further because listening to him I felt his story wasnt completely honest and forced. I understood that he wanted to get his voice heard but the timely of his interview wasn’t appropriate.

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