Crisis Management: DEATH OF A CELEBRITY – ANNA NICOLE SMITH STORY GOES GLOBAL

Crisis Management: DEATH OF A CELEBRITY – ANNA NICOLE SMITH STORY GOES GLOBAL

CHALLENGE

The death of Anna Nicole Smith thrust both the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and the Seminole Tribe Police Department onto the world stage. A frequent visitor to the property, Smith died at age 39 in her hotel room, where she had been ill for several days. Because the hotel is located on the Hollywood Seminole Reservation, the Tribe’s own police department led the investigation.

A media frenzy quickly developed, with interest from local, national and international media, as well as entertainment media and other trades. Strong public interest in the story and a ratings “sweeps” period created even greater media interest. The story was one of the first in which strong blog traffic dictated additional coverage by mainstream media.

OBJECTIVES

  • Show a fast, appropriate response from hotel personnel who were first notified of Smith’s medical crisis.
  • Position the hotel and Tribe as caring and concerned, by offering condolences to family and friends of Smith.
  • Be respectful of Smith, and protect the privacy of Smith’s entourage and other guests.
  • Convey a high level of professionalism of the Seminole Tribe Police Department, and show officers as well-trained and well-equipped.
  • Build awareness for the cooperative links between the Seminole Tribe Police Department and professionals from the Broward Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Unit, City of Hollywood Fire Rescue, the Broward County Medical Examiner and the office of the Broward State Attorney.
  • Create greater understanding of the sovereign status of Indian reservations, and explain that tribes are not subject to state regulations such as release of public records.
  • Work to dispel rumors as they develop.
  • Help the hotel and casino complex get back to normal as quickly as possible.

STRATEGY AND ACTION

Bitner Group representatives were on the scene at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino within minutes of the hotel’s first notification of her medical crisis. Team members moved into position at key points inside and outside of the complex, in order to identify and corral media representatives. A convenient media staging area was established in the rear of the hotel, for the first 24 hours after Smith’s death. Reporters were kept out of the hotel, away from guests.  Seminole Tribe Police Chief Charlie Tiger was briefed on media issues and provided with written statements for delivery at press conferences. Bitner Group representatives coordinated activities with media representatives of the Broward County Medical Examiner, the office of the Broward State Attorney, the City of Hollywood and other parties. Staff members of Bitner Group attended all press conferences and continued to brief media representatives in between scheduled press conferences.

Media briefings on the day Smith died took place at the Seminole Hard Rock. On the second day, the media horde moved to the Office of the Broward Medical Examiner, and 15 minutes from the hotel, and from there to various legal venues, all away from the Seminole Hard Rock.

Print and broadcast media coverage was carefully monitored to understand the positioning of both the Seminole Hard Rock and the Seminole Tribe Police Department. Blog sites were also tracked for references to the complex and to the Tribe. Errors in reporting were quickly addressed and erroneous information was corrected.

In the long term, rooms on the sixth floor were renumbered and reporters were discouraged from doing stories that positioned the complex as a shrine for Smith.

RESULTS

Both hotel and casino business were unaffected by the death of Anna Nicole Smith. In general, media coverage of Smith’s death included fair treatment of both the Seminole Hard Rock and the Seminole Tribe. The Seminole Hard Rock and the Seminole Tribe received high marks from reporters covering the story. The case actually helped to educate both the media and the public about Indian sovereignty.