Three experts on why announcing the Ferguson grand jury's decision at night was a mistake

Crisis communications experts who spoke with PRWeek agreed: prosecutor Robert McCulloch erred by revealing the Ferguson grand jury's decision at night.

A screenshot of PBS NewsHour's coverage of the McCulloch press conference
A screenshot of PBS NewsHour's coverage of the McCulloch press conference

St. Louis Country prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch was widely criticized after his Monday night press conference announcing that a grand jury had declined to indict Police Officer Darren Wilson for the August shooting of Michael Brown.

Many analysts and observers teed off on the length of the press conference and his decision to blame the media and social media for making the grand jury process more complex. CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, for one, called it "an extended whine and complaint."

PRWeek asked three crisis communications specialists to weigh in on the timing of the press conference – 8 pm CST – as crowds began to mass outside the courthouse. Below are their responses.

Michael Goodwin, SVP, Makovsky:
"The timing of it was unfortunate. Obviously, a decision had been reached much, much earlier, and the lack of any information led to heightened tensions. The more you provide and the earlier you provide it leads to transparency," he said. "I thought the prosecutor did a really good job discussing the evidence-based side of the case, but [there was] a disconnect between that and the emotional investment people have in the case."

Goodwin also suggested that McCulloch could have conducted a joint press conference along with leaders of the community and members of the local clergy.

Gene Grabowki, partner at kglobal:
"It appeared to me that the strategy was to lengthen the process so the people would get tired and go home or get bored," he said. "I think it was a miscalculation. It looked like the strategy of lengthening the process backfired extra hard on them with the release of the news at 8 pm."

Grabowski added that "the prosecuting attorney’s statement was too long, too defensive, and it didn’t show any compassion at all. It was delivered in a way that was robotic."

Daniel Hill, president, Ervin Hill Strategy:
"The adage is that bad news doesn’t get better with age. I do not understand at all why they waited. In fact, I think it was a terrible miscalculation for a variety of reasons," he said. "When news had gotten out that a decision had been made earlier in the day, protestors had started arriving on scene, and that gave them six and a half hours to organize and more people arrived on scene, and that includes the criminal element. Had they done it closer to when they had  a decision, you would have still had the protestors but not nearly the numbers."

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