You know the story by now– the Tampa socialite complains to the FBI about threatening emails, and the subsequent finding of an affair and questionable electronic messages leads to the downfall of CIA Director David Petraeus and an investigation of our top military man in Afghanistan, General John Allen. Kelley should have realized a scandal such as this would obviously draw massive media attention, but instead of getting ahead of the story, she stayed silent. A week after the story broke, we still haven’t heard Kelley side of the story– the only public statements have come from her brother talking about how she’s a good wife and mother who is innocent of any wrongdoing.
Kelley may have legitimate reasons (perhaps legal) for keeping quiet. But by doing so, she’s allowing others to paint her pubic portrait. Reporters digging into the story have found evidence of financial problems, legal issues involving her sister and other not-so-pleasant information about her. She’s also been labeled (including by me here) as a “socialite”– which carries its own negative connotations. None of this picture has been controlled by Kelley herself.
My point of all this is that in order to use the media to your advantage, you have to be proactive in creating the message you want…and you can’t delay. The media abhor an information vacuum…So if you don’t fill that vacuum, it will be filled for you, perhaps not in the way you would like. Kelley has hired a famous PR firm, and I’m sure the crisis management folks there will soon be out with a positive portrayal of her. But a lot of time was lost, and when it comes to media coverage, nothing beats getting ahead of the reporting posse.
This all reminds me of a proverb: Be a thermostat, not a thermometer. When it comes to dealing with the media, it’s really important that you control your own temperature…not the other way around.