Michael and you

PR pros offer tips on what to do when Michael Moore suddenly drops by the office.

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Install an ejection seat behind your desk? Pile a table by the entrance with complimentary, barbiturate-laced apple fritters? Noble ideas all, but not what PRWeek magazine recently recommended in a feature instructing the professional corporate mouthpiece on what to do should Michael Moore show up at your office.

The filmmaker and satirist, as is well known to fans of his films “Roger and Me” and “The Big One,” has made a career of speaking truth to power — well, not usually to power, but to the professional punching bags with whom the wise power surrounds itself. With the advent of his new TV show, “The Awful Truth” — in which, notably, he confronted an HMO with a mock funeral for a patient for whom it had denied coverage — one would assume a heightened readiness among the public relations profession, given Moore’s weekly platform from which to make them take bullets for their bosses.

“It didn’t take long to come up with a number of PR pros who had encountered him,” said PRWeek’s Jonah Bloom, who wrote the feature. “To be honest, experienced crisis PR pros are very unlikely to panic about an essentially humorous program — it’s their clients that panic.”

Truth be told, the experts don’t seem to have any really foolproof methods of defusing Moore, so much as tips, sometimes a touch vague, to minimize damage. Don’t say “no comment.” But don’t give away the store. Don’t be too serious: “He’s dying for you to take him seriously.” But don’t try to be too wacky: “That won’t work.” Communicate with your staff — believe it or not, some of them may actually think there’s truth to Moore’s accusations! Which brings up the last point: As a final measure, you could “try the boldest tactic of all and admit there is a problem, or at least launch an investigation.”

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Of course, as Bloom acknowledged, Moore will try to end-around you altogether whenever possible. Among the professionals Bloom consulted was Larry Kamer, “crisis management” specialist for GM and Nike — the targets of “Roger and Me” and “The Big One,” respectively. In the latter film, Nike head Phil Knight talked to Moore personally, a seemingly earnest strategy with excruciatingly poor results. Today, Kamer advises: “Put your best [PR] person out rather than spending eight days media training a CEO who is inevitably going to come across badly.”

No word yet on whether the security-guard or home-cosmetics-sales industry trade press are preparing similar service pieces.

James Poniewozik is a Time magazine columnist on TV and media.

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