Sunday, December 5, 2010

Celeb road rage? Pierre Png: I confronted him because he showed me finger

On 3 Dec 10, a Citizen Journalist (CJ) posted a story on The Straits Times Online Media Print (STOMP) website alleging an incident of road rage by a local celebrity.  Within days the story received over 19,100 page views, garnered 57 comments and was picked-up almost immediately by the mainstream media (MSM).

From a crisis communications perspective, Pierre Png could have handled the incident better.  Pierre did well when he sought to regain the information initiative by promptly telling his side of the story.  This then enabled STOMP and the MSM to include his side of the story in their reports which then "balanced" the CJ's claim.  A "no comment response" would have implied guilt and would likely have spiraled the incident out of control as rumors would have filled the information vacuum.  (See my earlier blog posting where "no comment says more than you think").

Pierre could however have done better in the following few areas:

a. Choice of "Tone".  Essentially, Pierre chose to come across as a "reasonable man".  While his response sought to make him appear as "mature", "rational" and "humble", Pierre's lack of anger is not congruent with a person who is falsely accused. (See my earlier blog posting on the Brad Lau Saga).  Pierre's side of the story would have greater credibility if he had expressed some anger over being falsely accused.

b. Personal Attack.  In his response, Pierre made a personal attack against his accuser by calling his a "coward".  As the aim of a crisis communication strategy in incidents like this is to reduce media interest as quickly as possible, making personal attacks is counter-productive.  This is because it is likely to instigate the CJ to seek "revenge" and this will drag the story out.  In this instance, Pierre would have done better to keep the attention focused on himself as the "victim" to garner greater support from interested stakeholders. 

c. Framing the Crisis.  Pierre also failed to frame the crisis to his advantage.  In any incident, crisis communicators should seek to elevate the issue at hand to one concerning socially accepted values.  In this incident, a good frame would be one of fairness i.e. why pick on me just because I am a celebrity?  Elevating the issue to this "level" will then make it harder for the accuser to continue attacking Pierre.  This is because continuing an attack would likely turn stakeholder support against the CJ.  Additionally, an issue of "fairness" will also allow Pierre to enlist other celebrities to his cause.

d.  Clear Outcomes.  Pierre's fourth and, in my opinion, biggest mistake is his failure to develop and pursue a clear outcome from this crisis.  In show business, they say "all publicity is good publicity", hence having a clear outcome will enable him to respond holistically to turn this to his advantage.  In my assessment, having a clear outcome would have shaped Pierre initial statement to elevate the issue, would have prevented Pierre from making a personal attack against the accuser thereby prolonging the incident, and would likely have enabled him to "gain" from this incident.

In summary, the key lessons learnt for PR Professionals are these: (a) never use "no comment" as it implies guilt; and (b) develop clear outcomes at the onset of any crisis.


  1. PR professionals and lawyers have 2 thing in common. They both have no regard for the truth and both prefer to spin.

  2. Thanks Anonymous for your comment. It has certainly set me thinking. While I cannot speak for lawyers, I will however try to speak for PR Professionals.

    As I have mentioned in one of my earlier post, all crisis communications must be based on the truth. It is irresponsible for a PR Professional to encourage (or knowing allow) his client to lie. This is because we now live in a perfect information environment and it is inevitable that the truth will be revealed.

    With that as the premise, a PR Professional's role in a crisis is not to "spin" the truth. The role of the PR Professional is to present the facts in a manner that will enable the affected company to survive the crisis. This is role is necessary as history has shown that left on its own, minor incidents can spiral out of control and destroy a company.

    Hence, contrary to what you may perceive, it is a PR Professional's duty to seek the truth.


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