Apr 4, 2024 - Business

Kim Mulkey's media relations strategy backfires

Photo of Head Coach Kim Mulkey of the LSU Tigers answers a question at the press conference during the first round of the 2024 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament

LSU women's basketball head coach Kim Mulkey at a 2024 March Madness press conference on March 22. Photo: Andy Hancock/NCAA Photos/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

It's becoming more common for companies, brands and public figures to use their own platforms to reach audiences directly, get ahead of media stories and shape the narrative.

Why it matters: By front-running a story, you risk drawing more attention to the negative coverage, extending the life of a news cycle and igniting the Streisand Effect.

Driving the news: Louisiana State University women's basketball coach Kim Mulkey learned this the hard way by preemptively commenting on what she assumed would be a "hit piece" by the Washington Post.

By the numbers: According to media monitoring platform Memo, Mulkey's comments drew the attention of over 5 million people who read about the article before it was even published.

  • The speculation and buzz surrounding the contents of the "hit piece" attracted significantly more readers than the paywalled article itself.
Articles mentioning Kim Mulkey and the <span style="background:#6533ff; padding:3px 5px;color:white;">Washington Post</span> or  <span style="background:#00c46b; padding:3px 5px;color:white;">Los Angeles Times</span>
Data: Muck Rack; Chart: Rahul Mukherjee/Axios

Zoom in: While Mulkey's preemptive comments about the Washington Post story further fanned the flames, her reactionary statement following an unfavorable Los Angeles Times column not only squashed discussion of the story, it prompted an apology from the publication.

  • Yes, but: Mulkey's comments placed a slight sense of skepticism in readers' minds and rallied supporters around her team while in the thick of the March Madness tournament.

What they're saying: "Taking the podium as she did has always been a last-ditch effort to change the framing of a story," says Stephanie Craig, president of crisis communications firm Kith.

  • "Most reporters are fair, and if you provide them with good sources and facts, they're willing to listen. If you still feel like a story is slanted one way or another, the option is to use your channels to frame the story first," she added.

And there are more subtle ways to do that, says Rebellis founder Deirdre Latour.

  • "If you know that something is coming out that is not going to be favorable to the company or to a person, then getting out ahead with your own positive messaging that refutes the piece without ever mentioning the piece can be a good idea," Latour told Axios.

Between the lines: While public front-running often backfires, communicating with internal audiences and aligning key stakeholders ahead of time remains a necessary step when potentially damning news is looming.

  • If the story is riddled with inaccuracies and the publication will not budge, establishing an external-facing source of truth through a written statement or blog post is critical for containing the spread of misinformation.

The bottom line: Publicly front-running a story often creates unnecessary waves and is a strategy that should be used sparingly.

Go deeper: LA Times apologizes to LSU

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