"Anything I say - any single sentence - can be used in isolation."
So wrote Polk Laffoon, Knight Ridder's vice president of corporate
relations, in a "rules of thumb" memo to executives, publishers and
editors on how to deal with the media.
Alas, it was more than just this "single sentence" that the Philadelphia
Weekly used when it got hold of the memo. It published almost the entire
oeuvre, and like the release of the memo, his words - whether in
isolation or their full context - are less than wise.
In the memo, entitled, Talking to the Press, Laffoon says "'no comment'
often ... makes good sense" since, according to Laffoon, "our business
is just that."
Laffoon also advises that reporters "virtually always have an agenda."
(Hang on a second, Polk, don't you work for the nation's second largest
news-paper company? - Ed.)
As proof of his PR savvy, Laffoon cites a June 18 Wall Street Journal
article. While the article was "nobody's idea of a helpful piece,"
Laffoon said it was "not nearly as strong as (the reporter) would have
liked, mostly because we threw so much contrary information at her."
A source within Knight Ridder, who leaked the story, asked: "Where was
this brilliant guidance when it was needed from calls from ... dailies
and weeklies across the country who for months recorded the carnage
inside Knight Ridder?"
Laffoon, whose name conveniently rhymes with Buffoon, offers a final tip
(with which to hang himself). You should understand your own motives, he
says. "You have to think: 'What am I trying to accomplish?' Because if
you impart something that isn't ultimately flattering to what we are all
about ... what has been gained? Indeed.