We often laugh at some of the bad pr in this sport, but this one takes the cake. Not only is it overwrought nonsense, it really does show just how desperate Abby Sunderland’s dad is to keep this bad act alive. Really, now that the "youngest sailor" thing is over, why would anybody really care about what Abby does or doesn’t do? She’s simply a young sailor who unfortunately seems to be artificially propped up. We’d say their 15 minutes are up. And their new PR hack is a dildo.
When 16 year old American around the world sailor Abby Sunderland was reportedly “lost at sea” the world’s media went into overdrive. When it was reported that her dad had dabbled in the arena of reality television, the attack dogs were released. Accusations of child endangerment and parents putting their child at risk for a quick buck became front page headlines. Relentless, unforgiving coverage and harsh criticism was common. The family was under mounting pressure as they struggled to deal with their new found fame – or as it was becoming, infamy.
You’d think with the number of publicists in Los Angeles their solution would be close at hand, but their situation was so dire they instead engaged Australian PR and media consultant Lyall Mercer, based in Brisbane. Mercer started fielding calls immediately from across the world then created a plan to correct the misinformation, ease the pressure on the family and shield them from the intensity of the media glare.
He flew to Reunion Island to meet Sunderland and moderate her first press conference, attended by media from across the world, before accompanying her back to the USA where she conducted another major press conference and was a guest on the hugely popular Today Show on the NBC network. He put in place a media plan that combined giving Sunderland appropriate protection while continuing to build her profile.
Mercer said that the global nature of Sunderland’s story made it a challenging task but he succeeded in changing the tone of the negative coverage and replacing distortion with truth. “The Sunderland family was under attack from people who didn’t know them and who had never even met them,” he said. Mercer praised Sunderland’s poise and ability to stay calm comparing her ability to handle the media to her level thinking during her rescue. “It’s obvious to all who meet Abby that she is a person of great control and maturity. This served her well on the ocean and it serves her well now she is dealing with such a major level of public exposure.”
Mercer attended Brisbane Boys College before embarking on studies in journalism and a corporate career. After living in the USA for 7 years, he formed Mercer PR only at the start of this year and has gained respected corporate clients quickly. “The key to my PR success is giving more than just PR. I am the strategic advisor and work very personally with my clients,” he said.
It was the specialised area of crisis PR management that drew the Sunderland family. “I really enjoy crisis management. Turning big negatives into great positives is right up my alley!” said Mercer. He has received accolades from many quarters – including America’s media – for the way in which he dealt with the Abby Sunderland case.