Rookie Mistakes

It didn’t take long for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 25-year-old press secretary to run into trouble with the media. Tarrah Cooper, a graduate from the University of Missouri’s journalism school, might be in a bit over her head, according to Chuck Goudie, the chief investigative reporter at ABC 7 News in Chicago.

Recently, Goudie posted a story about his first run-in with Cooper, who—in his opinion—failed to act professionally when he called to ask questions about a story he was investigating. Goudie said, “rather than simply answer the questions, Ms. Cooper stated that she wished to speak ‘off the record.’”

According to Goudie, Cooper also supplied him with misleading and false information. Deciding that he was going to comment on this unprofessional interaction, Goudie sent Cooper some basic questions about her background and position. Cooper again asked to speak off the record and has since ceased all communication. Here are some of the questions that Goudie asked:

• Is there a set of written guidelines or protocols that you are working from in dealing with reporters and news organizations?
• How involved is Mr. Emanuel in setting the tone for dealing with the press and in what manner? Does each story inquiry get run by him?
• What qualifies you to be press secretary for the mayor of the third-largest city?
• How much will you be paid?
• What are your career aspirations?

As a student in the public relations field it aggravates me to see this type of basic communication faux pas.

Cooper’s job as a public communications official is to communicate the actions and positions of the administration with the public. I think that Cooper should have been prepared to discuss the topic at hand with Goudie, or at the very least be prepared to find out the answers and then follow up with the correct position of the administration. Saying, “Let me get back to you” is always better than asking to speak about your opinion off the record.

As for failing to answer Goudie’s inquiry into Cooper herself: I think that she did more harm than good to herself by not answering the journalist’s questions. I believe that when acting as the face of a new administration, it is crucial to paint oneself as an honest, open and frank mouthpiece in order to be effective.
But I am left wondering: Does Tarrah Cooper, or for that matter any 25-year-old, posses the necessary communication skills that a press secretary position requires? What do you think, and how would you have handled Chuck Goudie in this situation?
To read the whole article by Chuck Goudie here at the Daily Herald, click here

This guest blog was written by PRowl Public Relations staff member Jacob DeChant.
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