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Stop the presses: a good word for a great PR man

May 5, 2009 |  4:37 pm

Seibel2

A good public relations person masters the art of "spinning'' a story, which in its best form means providing enough help and information to a reporter so the story will treat the PR meister's organization fairly.

Darryl Seibel was as good at the tactic as anyone, but Seibel knew it was going to be hard to get the media to believe his Tuesday resignation as chief communications officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee was not related to the recent regime change in Colorado Springs.

In the official news release on the resignation, effective June 5, Seibel said, “Since the conclusion of the [2008] Beijing Games, I have had the opportunity to give serious consideration as to when the time would be right to turn the page and begin a new chapter professionally – and that time is now.''

Seibel, 41, had called me a few minutes before the news became public, extending the personal and professional courtesy that has marked my working relationship with him during his six years as USOC press chief and his earlier tenure in the same position at USA Hockey. During our conversation, he insisted the move owed to family considerations and a desire for change, not to problems with a new USOC administration led by board chairman Larry Probst and acting CEO Stephanie Streeter.

Much as I am inclined to think Seibel was biting his tongue to avoid burning bridges or slamming an organization with a mission he deeply respects and supports, I am going to take his word on this one.

Why? Not once in his years on one side of what can be an adversarial relationship did Seibel play fast and loose with the truth in an effort to protect the USOC. Not once did Seibel sic or try to trick me off an exclusive -- and possibly negative -- story if he knew I had the facts correct when I called for USOC comment.

But there were several times when he warned me off certain aspects of a story that were not correct. By giving me enough information to understand all ramifications of a story, Seibel could give it a USOC spin while preventing me from looking foolish or wasting time in blind alleys.

Seibel was new on the job when the USOC was being dragged before Congress because of its managerial malfeasance and ineptitude, and he helped the USOC get the mud off its face while never slinging it back at the media who reveled in the mess.

In short, I could trust him, and such a relationship is rare between PR folks and reporters.

To tell the truth, I wondered how long Seibel would stay with the USOC during the Probst-Streeter era. Both are former corporate CEOs who have struggled to understand the public nature of their USOC positions, which doesn't make life easy for a chief communications officer.

In six months on the job, Probst has done just one interview with the media who regularly cover the USOC, and that was in a group setting. Streeter has been much more forthcoming, even though she took the brunt of intense media criticism after the board unceremoniously dumped popular CEO Jim Scherr in early March and put her in the position.

Selfishly, I am sad to see Seibel go, because I always appreciated how he could do his job with equal respect for both the organization he served and the media to whom he was its spokesman. But anyone familiar with Seibel's honesty would worry about how well he could continue to do it in a USOC where corporate speak may become the word of the day.

My late colleague, the Hall of Fame baseball writer Jerry Holtzman, used to quote the novelist John Tunis when Holtzman wanted to praise a person's character. "He's as good a man as you'll find in a long day's march,'' Holtzman often wrote.

Anyone would say the same about Darryl Seibel.

                                                                                 -- Philip Hersh

Former USOC chairman Peter Ueberroth, right,talks with Darryl Seibel, USOC chief communications officer, before Michelle Kwan announces her withdrawal from the 2006 Winter Olympics. Credit: Nuccio di Nuzzo / Chicago Tribune

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