CAMPAIGNS: Crisis PR - Library fends off Dr. Laura probe

Client: Denver Public Library

Client: Denver Public Library

Client: Denver Public Library

PR Team: In-house

Campaign: Laura Schlessinger Show response strategy

Time Frame: August 15 - September 30

Budget: dollars 6,000



The Denver Public Library confronted an unsettling situation in mid-August when word leaked that Dr. Laura Schlessinger had targeted its Internet policies on her soon-to-be-aired, syndicated television show. A 15-year-old girl with a hidden camera had visited the library and checked out an R-rated video and documented people using library computers to access porn. Before Dr. Laura aired Lewd Libraries, the library staff tried to defuse a potentially damaging report that could erode its good will.

'There was a real sense of danger on our part,' recalls Pat Hodapp, the library's marketing manager, referring to the impact the program was likely to have on patrons. Hodapp anticipated Dr. Laura would invite the library to tell its side, but the staff had to decide on the best response.



Strategy

When the show did call, city librarian Rick Ashton declined the offer to appear live to comment, because he thought it would waste time and that a confrontation with Dr. Laura might worsen matters. Instead, Hodapp, Ashton and PR manager Anya Breitenbach decided to be proactive and beat Dr. Laura to the punch locally.



Tactics

Breitenbach and Hodapp say the library had a crisis plan in place, but facing the threat of a major media attack demanded daily reviews of those procedures. 'It's very easy for a beloved institution like a library to not be prepared for the possibility of dealing with negative public sentiment,' says Breitenbach.

In August, Ashton and the library started to let leaders, including Colorado's governor and the mayor, know about the show and reinforce library policy of not interfering with the rights of adults to use materials and the Web as they see fit, although the library routinely cautions parents to monitor children's borrowing. Prominent library supporters were contacted too.

The library recruited staff, patrons and other key supporters to serve as spokespeople and equipped them with talking points reiterating library policy.

For example, the library had taken precautions, such as installing privacy screens on computer terminals in adult areas to reduce the chances of other patrons being inadvertently subjected to offensive material.

In addition, the library instituted a modest paid advertising program in community newspapers and on the Disney Radio Network to promote its 'WebWise' workshops that show parents and kids how to use the Internet wisely.

It also made a point of emphasizing WebWise when promoting its fall events schedule. The library spoke about its Internet policies with reporters, resulting in a story headlined 'Library: No Web of Sex' in The Denver Post on September 11, which challenged the assertions Dr. Laura was expected to make on her show show four days later.

Before the show aired, the library also was able to disseminate its message through the Rocky Mountain News. Radio and television stations also provided coverage.



Results

Success was measured not by the reaction generated by Lewd Libraries, but by the lack of it. Ashton had blocked off time to handle media inquiries and several community newspapers inquired about Internet policies.

Eleven patron complaints about Internet policies had been received in the two years before Lewd Libraries aired, and a few more straggled in right before the show.

But only two calls and a letter of complaint were received in the month following the show.



Future

The library continues to monitor Internet policies. The American Library Association recently selected the campaign as one of nine John Cotton Dana Public Relations Award winners.

Dr. Laura's syndicated TV show continues to air, but gay activists have mounted a campaign to encourage television stations and advertisers to drop the show. As of mid-February the program had been downgraded to less attractive time slots by a number stations.



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