I got a pitch email the day after Kobe Bryant and his daughter died in a helicopter crash. It was from a PR person, offering me the opportunity to interview and get quotes from a trauma expert. I found it ghoulish and appalling. But it made me wonder: there is so much death and so much trauma in the world, where must a PR person draw the line?
Here is the email I received:
Pitch: Kobe: Trauma Therapist on Kobe’s Wife and What She’ll Face Next
From: Jo Allison jo @ successinmedia.com
Does this story work for you?
Trauma Therapist on Kobe’s Wife and What She’ll Face Next
She can also talk about Kobe’s other kids and the complexities of how this will play out.
Dr. Colleen Cira is a trauma therapist, licenced clinical psychologist as well as a wife and mother herself. She can see the next phases of this process for Kobe’s wife and other children.
Available: Dr. Colleen Cira,
Trauma Therapist (Bio / Ambassador Page)
What Dr. Colleen Cira Can Say on This Topic:
-There is some real complexity here. His wife just lost a husband and child at the same time. What must that be like for her?
-Something of that magnitude combined with reaction from presidents and celebrities and millions of fans is more than most people will ever experience.
-As a mother and wife I am near inconsolable every time I think about his wife and the unspeakable pain she must be in. It feels simply too much.
-AND how as a trauma therapist and sexual trauma survivor, I am also feeling so much for the women that he has hurt in the past.
-…His death can be triggering for them too – seeing his face and name EVERYWHERE – but also sexual trauma survivors in general.
-And how simply acknowledging this complexity is not being disrespectful of him or negating his impact on basketball, young people, the Black Community, etc but simply acknowledging another equally true and less pleasant reality.
-I know that when people die we all (especially the media) appoint them to sainthood and as that wears off we are left with a mix of feelings.
It can be tough for some people to hold both truths in their head at the same time.
–Colleen can talk more about the grieving process for Kobe’s wife and kids when people are killed in a tragic way, die early, and the public focus (does it help or hurt.)
Do you want to interview or quote Dr. Cira?
PR Managing Editor
Success in Media, Inc.
Jo @ SuccessInMedia.com
I am not much of a basketball fan and my knowledge about Kobe Bryant is minimal. However, I do know that millions of people are grieving the tragedy of a great player suddenly dead at 41 years old along with his daughter. So the pitch struck me at horrifying and wrong.
This was clearly a very broad blast. I am on some general list at Meltwater of “influencers” or media members or the like. If it hit me, it probably hit thousands of other random people, nearly all of whom are unlikely to respond. Many of them are people for whom this is not a random tragedy but a personal one. (I know how I would feel if one of my sports idols had tragically died too young — and one almost did last year.) This pitch is sure to strike such folks as offensive and wrong.
In short, any benefit it might generate for Dr. Cira will be far outweighed by the pain it causes. While I can see the argument that Dr. Cira’s publicist might make that putting her on TV or quoting her might help people attempting to deal with tragedy, this pitch comes off as exploitive and awful, not helpful. (Do you agree?)
Jo Allison is trying to get publicity for her client. I have provided her email address here, which she should be fine with, since it extends the reach of her email blast. (She failed to respond to my invitation to interview her for this post.) If you send me an untargeted blast, I think you should be fine with seeing it reach a bigger audience. If you want to talk to Dr. Cira, please contact Ms. Allison.
Where, exactly, is the line?
Once I got over my immediate revulsion, I began to wonder which pitches of this kind would be ethically appropriate. Here’s a thought experiment for you. Which of these pitches suggesting an expert to interview would be allowable, and which are reprehensible? (These are all based on actual tragedies.)
- A virologist offers expert commentary on the spread of the Coronavirus.
- A nuclear power expert offers commentary on the breaching of a reactor and its deadly impact on those around the plant.
- An Iranian expat explains how the nation of Iran is grieving the death of senior official in a bomb strike.
- A crew coach explains the likely impact on the team and fans of the death of a tightly-knit college crew team in a horrible auto accident.
- A beloved business thinker and professor dies at age 67 after an accomplished career, and business leaders make themselves available to describe the impact he made.
If you want to tell me in the comments which of these you’d find offensive, I’d be very interested in the results.
My hands are not completely clean here. I am, after all, writing this post in the wake of Kobe’s death (I waited three days, but you can certainly criticize me for it). And one of the most popular blog posts I ever wrote was about Steve Jobs stepping down due to illness, and it got me a CNBC appearance. If they had asked me to appear after he died, I would have done it.
And I’m just talking about pitches. There are other ways to get publicity in the wake of events — it’s called newsjacking, and I do it all the time. In the matter of Kobe’s death, which of the following would you find allowable, and which gruesome?
- A blog or Facebook post about his contribution to basketball?
- A post about a personal connection someone had with him, or about how he inspired them?
- A post about how this event teaches us all to value the loved ones around us, because they can be taken at any moment?
- A post about how people react in moments of extreme grief? (This post is what Dr. Cira might write.)
- A YouTube video or Instagram post about any of the above?
- A Podcast about any of the above?
- A tweet or Twitter thread about any of the above?
- An email newsletter that talks about any of the above, sent to subscribers who signed up for it?
Any of these seems much less awful than the email pitch. Part of the reason is that people reading them are people who asked for them, or clicked on them. They aren’t going to be hitting unsuspecting people at a moment of extreme grief. And they are primarily intended to help the recipient or reader or viewer with that grief, not generate visibility for the expert. While these are all forms of newsjacking and content marketing, they don’t seem so blatantly exploitive.
I am not on solid ground here — I have a lot of uncertainty about where to draw the line. So I ask for your help. In the wake of tragedy, what do you believe is acceptable content marketing or publicity work, and what is not?