3.25.13

What A Celebrity Wizard Of Spin Can Teach You About Shaping Your Own Story

BY CAMILLE SWEENEY AND JOSH GOSFIELD

Maintaining a positive public image is hard work for any person or company–but it’s easier if you understand how to get out in front of the media. L.A.’s foremost PR rep to the stars Mike Sitrick reveals a few gems from his bag of tricks.

Everyone understands the importance of shaping a story, but few are as shrewdly proficient at manipulating the media as L.A. crisis manager Mike Sitrick, who the Los Angeles Times has called “The Wizard of Spin.” A celebrity, arrested for soliciting a prostitute or going on a drunken rampage, confronted with a frenzied pack of reporters, is likely to call Sitrick, whose firm has defended and rebuilt the reputations of scores of entertainers, athletes, and other high-profile clients caught in the media glare. (His clients have included Paris Hilton, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Vick, and Chris Brown to name a few, as well as embattled companies and high-profile executives, many of whom Sitrick can only discuss off the record, if at all.)

Sitrick, whose uncanny ability to assess and understand the intricacies of how the media behaves and what makes an individual journalist tick, has a lot to teach anyone about how to deal with the media. His advice in a nutshell: “If you don’t tell your story, someone else will tell it for you.”

1. Strike fast. When a high-profile client calls and says, “CBS Evening News is outside my door. What should I do?” we have to get the facts, assess the situation, and establish a strategy in a matter of minutes. We have to know immediately who to contact and how. Some people worry about having the last word; my concern is getting the first and last word. Get your story out first so you can set the tone for the coverage that follows.

2. Prepare the client. Powerful people don’t like being challenged, but a crucial part of my job is telling the emperor or empress they have no clothes. CEOs wield incredible power, but I often have to explain to them that they can’t control the press. A celebrity might be able to act, but what if they don’t come across sympathetically in front of a camera after being been accused of shoplifting or trashing a hotel room? Before we put a client in front of reporters or cameras we rehearse them very carefully, the way a lawyer would. Tiger Woods isn’t a client of mine, but before his apologia press conference I would have rehearsed him, shot a video, and if it had come off the way it aired, I’d have done it differently.

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