If You Sell Asbestos, You Better Get A Good P.R. Team

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a guest post from Jeff Domansky, aka The PR Coach. Jeff’s website is one of the most comprehensive PR resources on the web. If you’ve never checked out his site – particularly his PR Library – it’s worth a visit.

A Canadian mining executive recently learned a tough lesson about knowing who you’re talking to in a media interview.

Bernard Coulombe is Executive Director of the Jeffrey Asbestos Mine in Québec. Given his company’s notorious product, he was likely thrilled to get some positive news coverage for his mine. Unfortunately, the reporter was from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Mr. Coulombe didn’t realize the interview was a setup. Québec government and Town of Asbestos officials (yes, there’s actually a Canadian town called Asbestos) were also suckered into interviews in the hilarious parody.

Here’s just part of the dialogue with “reporter” Aasif Mandvi:

Mandvi: “Does Asbestos mean something different in French than it does in English? Because in English, it means slow, hacking death.”

Coulombe: “It means that?”

As reported on the CTV website, things went to hell in a hand basket very quickly:

“In the segment broadcast on May 12, 2011, The Daily Show’s Mumbai-born reporter Aasif Mandvi ridicules both Coulombe and the industry as he heaps scorn on the practice of mining asbestos in Quebec and exporting the controversial mineral to India for processing.”

During the segment, Mandvi asks “What is the French word for douchebag?” and describes the practice of sending asbestos from Québec to India for processing as “That’s really fu**ed up man!”

To add madness to misery, the company issued a news release after the program aired on The Comedy Network, that read, in part:

“Reacting to the tacky parody that was broadcast by the American television program The Daily Show, Mr. Bernard Coulombe, Executive Director of Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, said he is disgusted that he was made the subject of such an inappropriate parody.”

What are the PR Lessons?

There are eight lessons to learn from this sad public relations story:

  1. Do Your Research: Know the media outlet and which reporter is doing the interview.
  2. Have a Strategy: Know why you’re doing every interview and what your goal is.
  3. Be Prepared: Have your key messages ready and be prepared for all possible questions.
  4. You Can Say No: You don’t have to agree to every interview, especially with the knowledge that it’s going to be an “ambush.”
  5. Don’t Be Overconfident: You may be the Prime Minister, the US President, a celebrity, a leading mining executive or even a high profile media talent – but ego will get you into trouble every time.
  6. Don’t be a Comedian: Leave comedy to the professionals – it rarely belongs in any media interview.
  7. Get PR Advice: If you find a situation is going sideways, seek competent PR advice before you act.
  8. Don’t Make a Bad Situation Worse: Sending a news release after a bad story simply gives a bad story “legs.” Showing a sense of humor and even a little bit of embarrassment would have helped anyone identify with the situation and helped the situation go away sooner.

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