On January 9, 2011, the great state of Arizona lowered its star and stripes to half-mast in mourning. Outside a Safeway in Tucson, flowers were laid and prayers whispered. The day before, that Safeway changed from typical grocery store to a place where the unthinkable happened: nineteen innocent people were shot, six of whom died. Among the dead were a district court judge and a nine-year-old girl. Among the wounded was Congresswomen Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords: Politician, survivor and….PR pro?
Writing about that day needs to be handled with care because 1) the story has been told a dozen different ways and 2) the sensitive nature of the topic, as are most political stories. I’m not here to talk politics. I won’t go into the gruesome details of a day which, in my opinion, was one of the lowest points in Arizona history. This post is about how the Congresswoman, known to many as Gabby, and her team overcame the day, defeated the enemy and stole the media’s (and the nation) hearts.
I will never say there was any good that came from a horrible day. What happened on January 8, 2011 should never have happened, and while we can be thankful for Gabby’s remarkable survival, she should never have had to endure what she went through in the first place. I can remember, as I’m sure many of us can, exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard the story. The majority of my family is from Tucson and I have passed that Safeway countless times. I cannot express the anger I felt that day and the sick feeling I still get whenever that eerie mugshot of the alleged shooter is shown.
Something was different about how this story was covered: In a world obsessed with violence, murder trials and sex, Gabby took control of the spotlight. It may not have been intended, as many miracles lead to her recovery, but focus was taken away from the absolute horror of that day and directed to her survival, the dedicated team of doctors at the University of Arizona and her loyal staffers that never left her side.
To me, not giving all the attention to the suspect is one of the worst punishments he will receive, at least until a sentence is handed down. His intended victim survived and is loved more now than ever by the public. Although his disturbing mugshot is still shown while the trail is pending, he wasn’t glorified like the media has done before in school shootings or high-profiled murder cases. There was no “behind-the-killer” special, chronicling his life up until that day.
This time, attention was all about the victims.
Unwittingly, Gabby’s team launched a PR crisis plan – they were transparent in her progress, addressed the issues immediately and expressed their sorrow to the victims’ loved ones. Rather than talk about the suspect’s arrest, they talked about the heroes working to save Gabby’s life.
So, today, our Tip for Tuesday is to “Gabbify” yourself. Stop emphasizing the bad and stress the good. PR is often called “spinning,” but that is not what I mean, nor what we do. I’m not “spinning” the story – that day will always be marked by tragedy. The facts will always be there. But there is still so much story to be told.
To Gabbify yourself, look forward to what needs to be worked on, strive for improvement, and above all, stop putting all the attention on the negative.
Let go of what you can’t change and approach what you can change strategically. Offer solutions to the problems and admit your own mistakes. Encourage discussions as way to improve current issues, but don’t insult or accuse anyone in the process.
Gabby’s survival is amazing. Her optimism is outstanding. But above all, she is a symbol of hope and reason to be proud of this state.
And for that, we are grateful