Tailor approaches to clients' traits

When former Sen. George Mitchell released his anticipated report on steroid use in baseball this past December, it included Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte.

When former Sen. George Mitchell released his anticipated report on steroid use in baseball this past December, it included Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte.
Clemens and Pettitte have been teammates and friends for years. Their on- and off-the-field styles, however could not be more different. Clemens is the hard throwing, intimidating hurler, while Pettitte has made his living painting the corners, patiently waiting for the game to come to him. True to their form, Clemens aggressively denied the allegations through high profile public appearances, while Pettitte remained quiet, only commenting when necessary.

Watching Clemens defend himself in the media is like seeing him on the mound: high heat and plenty of it. First, he issued a video statement through his Web site denying that he had ever used steroids, followed a few weeks later with a highly publicized appearance on 60 Minutes. The next day, he held a Houston press conference, where he alternately scowled and ruminated aloud about why his former trainer Brian McNamee would suggest such allegations. Now he faces possible perjury charges from his testimony before Congress last month.

In comparison, Pettitte made himself available to the press for one hour after he gave his testimony to Congress and upon his arrival at spring training. Pettitte was forthright and direct, acknowledging his use of human growth hormone (HGH) and the desperation that drove him to use it in the first place.

For the crisis communications pro, the lesson of L'Affaire Clemens is clear: Know a client's communication strengths and weaknesses, and set strategy accordingly. When representing a client with a reputation for being difficult, consider these issues:

Never depend on the individual. Since the release of the Mitchell Report, the media focus has been on Clemens. Recruiting and mobilizing third parties to deliver the message can lend greater credibility to the campaign, and [in this case] could have shifted the spotlight from Clemens' less than stellar public performances to McNamee's possible motives.

Lawyers are not third parties. Clemens has relied exclusively on his attorneys to publicly defend his case. Who can forget the image of Clemens before the House Oversight Committee - with his attorneys standing, gesticulating behind him? Compare it to Pettitte's press event where he was greeted with a bear hug from the uber-popular Derek Jeter.

Resist the combative element. Clemens did not earn the nickname "The Rocket" overnight; his nature is to challenge and intimidate. But when on the defensive from allegations of wrongdoing, conveying an even tone is essential. Raising your voice, interrupting the questioner, and acting dismissive do little to reassure the public that you are telling the truth.

Actions, not just words. It is an oft-used phrase, but it's true. Clemens participated in a number of media engagements. But missing was a signature event that could have showed Clemens as selfless or cognizant - such as funding an anti-steroid public awareness campaign. Instead, we were left with Roger being Roger.

For Clemens, the next act of this story has yet to play out. As the stakes get bigger, he may want to take a page out of his fellow Texan's playbook, alter his delivery and throw a curve.

David Tamasi is an account director in public affairs practice at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide in Washington, DC.

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