Pistorius statement a ‘PR exercise’

FILE PICTURE: Oscar Pistorius in the dock of Pretoria Magistrate Court. Picture: Christine Vermooten.

FILE PICTURE: Oscar Pistorius in the dock of Pretoria Magistrate Court. Picture: Christine Vermooten.

A statement released by murder accused Oscar Pistorius on the anniversary of the death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Friday has been labeled by PR communications specialists as “distasteful”.

They also felt that the paralympian’s statement was carefully timed in an attempt to “emphasise that it was an accident”.

Although seemingly heartfelt, the statement “smacks of spin”, said Janine Lloyd of PR Expert, a specialist in crisis communications and reputation management with 26 years’ experience in the industry.

The statement was released late on Thursday evening on Pistorius’ website. Steenkamp was shot and killed in the early hours of February 14 last year through the bathroom door at his Pretoria home last year. Pistorius maintains that it was a case of mistaken identity as he thought she was an intruder.

“No words can adequately capture my feelings about the devastating accident that has caused such heartache for everyone who truly loved– and continues to love Reeva. The pain and sadness – especially for Reeva’s parents, family and friends consumes me with sorrow. The loss of Reeva and the complete trauma of that day, I will carry with me for the rest of my life,” he said in the statement.

Pistorius also used Twitter – for the first time since the day before Steenkamp’s death – to publicise his statement. “A few words from my heart on oscarpistorius.com”, he tweeted.

Lloyd referred to the messages as a “PR exercise”.

“The date is significant because it is highly newsworthy,” she said. “The PR engine wants to show Oscar as upset and traumatised.

“I personally think it is in very bad taste.”

Although the message had been “carefully crafted”, public awareness of the public relations industry has grown tremendously. Citizens are increasingly demanding hyper transparency, she commented, and tolerance for “spin” is low.

“Perception is everything. It would be more genuine if throughout the last year he had showed more emotion around her death.”

Pistorious’ “PR machine” was however working well, she said.

“They are positioning him well… (by) getting him carefully selected television or other appearances. This is good positioning for him where it matters: advancing the cause that sport and determination can change people’s lives… Look at the amount of supporters he has. He is doing some things right.”

Nevertheless, she felt, “only the truth that will save him”.

“If he has a fair trial and the evidence shows that he did not do it, then his career will be saved.”

Flow PR & Reputation Management director Shoni Makhari, with 15 years experience in the industry, agreed that a signal was being sent to the public that “it was an accident”.

“You have to bring your perspective to the situation or crisis,” he said.

In a PR exercise the aim is “to engage with the public and project a particular image”.

The timing of the release of the statement “might be an attempt to connect with the audience by projecting Oscar’s state of mind, (to suggest) that at that particular point in time he was thinking about her.”

Building a reputation over the longer term is an ongoing process, he added.

“As a PR adviser releasing a statement of this nature, I would certainly have asked for the family’s blessing, or even better issued a joint statement. But I suspect they may not be in the mood to fraternise with someone facing charges of this nature (that affected) a close relative.”

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