Crisis Expert's Secrets of Success

PR crisis maven Sam Singer dominates the market here in Northern California -- I can't remember the last time a crisis broke and he wasn't quickly retained as the counselor/spokesperson. His clients include the San Francisco 49ers, BART and Chevron.

His latest client: The San Francisco Zoo, site of the horrific tiger attack on Christmas that left one young man dead and his two friends seriously injured.Sam Singer
Singer must be doing something right, because today the San Francisco Chronicle wrote a generally positive front-page profile of Singer that appeared "above the fold" (meaning on the top half of the front page, the most visible spot in the entire paper). Given that journalists typically show disdain for PR and prefer that we be "seen and not heard," it struck me as an extraordinary nod to a very successful PR guy.

What can we all learn from Sam's style and strategy? Here are some observations from watching him over the years:

  • A service-oriented approach: Call Sam on the phone and he will say: "Hi Jon. How can I be of service today?" Seriously. That's how he approaches interpersonal interactions.
  • A positive attitude: Sam was blessed with a youthful face and he uses it perfectly. He comes across as upbeat, can-do and positive.
  • Credibility: At its essence, the reason the Chronicle was willing to profile him is that he exudes credibility. He doesn't seem like a slimy, untrustworthy PR spinner -- he seems like an honest broker of information who happens to be giving you his client's side of the story in its most positive light.
  • A take-no-prisoners approach: "He can be very charming and entertaining, but he is very hard-nosed," his former partner, Larry Kamer, said to the Chronicle. "When it comes to business, there's two sides to the man."
  • High standards and a willingness to take chances: Singer told the Chronicle: "I hold myself to high standards in terms of quality of writing, a tremendous sense of alacrity, and some style and verve."
The Chronicle also noted his excellent relationships with journalists, as well as his understanding of their needs and how they work. According to the Chronicle, he has been feeding the media information about the alleged behavior of the young men involved in the tiger attack, such as their levels of intoxication and their taunting of the big cat. The media has been eating that information up, and as a result, the zoo is appearing in a more sympathetic light. Now that's good PR.


Update: after I wrote this blog post a colleague pointed out that Singer was the subject of a similar profile in the San Jose Mercury News. Wow -- that's pretty unusual. Who's his PR guy?