PR Lessons Learned From The January 6th Select Committee Hearings That Apply To Non-Political Situations


Arthur Solomon

In my opinion, the January 6 Special Committee hearings accomplished its goals of informing viewers who were not previously closely following the January 6 reporting, and/or forgot about the attempted coup that led to the violent insurrection and loss of life during the certification of President Joe Biden’s election.  

Politics aside, there were several important public relations lessons for people in our business that can be applied to agency and non-agency situations.

  • Perhaps the most important lesson was that the committee did not result to the old-school technique which most journalists ignore: Using paid spokespersons that have no direct connection to a company or product to deliver the message. Instead, the committee used the best possible spokespersons – Republican officials, many of whom who directly worked for the former twice impeached president, instead of paid gun slingers that endorse anything as long as their checks clear. Doing so made their testimony believable. Newspeople prefer spokespersons directly connected to a situation, not a spokesperson who is hawking coffee on Monday for the ABC Company and milk on Tuesday for the XYZ Company.

(Full disclosure: During my PR career, I have used many paid spokespersons, but always made certain that they had a direct connection to the program. A few examples: For baseball and Olympics projects, I always made certain the the individuals had a direct connection to the program. Example: When I directed the publicity for Gillette’s All-Star balloting program for eights years, when Gillette was the sole sponsor of the program, each spokesperson had to have participated in an All-Star Game. Example: For an educational project, I used a former New York City Mayor who was formally a teacher. Example: For a substance abuse program, I only used experts in the field who were on the staff of a leading substance abuse facility. Example: For many Olympic-related programs, I only used former and current Olympians as spokespersons. Doing so gave these spokespersons true expertise in the projects, which appealed to reporters and resulted in major publicity hits on print and TV outlets.)

  • The January 6 Committee hearings received much criticism from the far-right media. Some programs that I worked on also received negative reaction from opposing groups. What I told clients is to ignore the criticism because no matter what you do it will not stop. Continue with our program of disseminating positive messages, which resulted in considerably more believable positive media hits than opposing group’s negative comments. Responding to opposition remarks would just result in “he said, she said,” stories, I advised.

(The exception to my above advice did not include libelous and other comments that could be proven untrue by a simple one paragraph response containing facts.)

  • During the hearings, the January 6 Select Committee did not designate one individual as the prime spokesperson. Instead, various committee members were given prominent roles. The same was true when committee members were interviewed by the media.

(I also advised clients to designate more than one individual that I could pitch to the media. This permitted me many more pitchable options. Example: When arranging interviews I utilized the president of a company, the marketing vice president or a paid spokesperson that had a direct connection to the project, depending upon the target publication or TV show.)

The January 6 Select Committee hearings were in keeping with my philosophy of public relations.

  • Don’t rush to respond to a negative story. Doing so will not change many minds. Keep with the program.
  • Think creatively. Do not follow the “to do” policies that the “fathers of PR” devised during the Mesozoic Era and are still followed by many practitioners.
  • And most important, make certain that your program contains hard news, if possible. Since most PR programs do not contain hard news it is essential for the account teams to develop out-of-the box creative story suggestions.

While the Select Committee said that the July 21 prime time session might be the final one, their investigation will continue. So PR people should pay attention: There are certain to be other lessons to be learned and maybe additional public sessions.

The Unspoken PR Tenet: Bad News Is Good News for Our Business By Arthur SolomonAbout the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and was on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He has been a key player on Olympic marketing programs and also has worked at high-level positions directly for Olympic organizations.