Sandra Ericson|Jan 15, 2016

Unless you are truly devoid of human contact, you already know about the record-setting $1.6 billion Powerball jackpot and the three winning tickets that, as of the time of this blog post, still remain unclaimed but were sold in Chino Hills, California; Munford, Tennessee and Melbourne Beach, Florida.

So, morning show viewers were a bit surprised as The Today Show began promoting that they would have the Tennessee winners on first. And by first, I mean prior to them actually having their winning ticket validated by the lottery headquarters.

A somewhat incredulous Savannah Guthrie asked what all of America was thinking: “WHYYYYY?!!!”

Why on earth, would you take the risk of getting on a plane, flying to the most populated city in the country, and revealing your identity on live TV, all before you sealed the deal?

The maybe-to-be half billionaires did what many of us probably do on a regular basis: They blamed it on the lawyers.

The couples’ lawyer, who also appeared on Today, apparently advised them to appear on a national TV segment before collecting their winnings in an effort to “control the story.”

It got me thinking about what it actually means to “control the story” – a phrase we hear kicked around a lot in our industry. By pre-empting the media onslaught, did these potential winners reap rewards of some kind that can in any way outweigh the immense risk they took by doing it this way?

First, let’s cover why, for some brands or people, controlling the story may work in your favor.


In the news cycle, timing is everything. Your news is only more or less important than the other news out there. If it’s likely to be perceived as bad news, some may consider sharing the announcement at a time when a bigger story may take the lead.

There are risks to keep in mind with this strategy, of course. It’s critical that organizations be open and transparent, especially when the news may affect the public or investors. Not to mention, relationships with reporters will most definitely suffer should communications professionals make it difficult for them to do their job, perhaps by sending important news out at 5 p.m. on a Friday, for example. But within reason, selecting your own timing is a big factor in controlling your story.

As it relates to lottery land, I can almost see this strategy having a little upside when it comes to timing. For weeks, all anyone talked about was Powerball, but that story has started to run its course. A delayed announcement of winners might pull it back into the news cycle and keep us talking about it longer than we might if the news came out right away.

While I’m not clear 100 percent clear on how long it takes for winning ticket to be validated as, tragically, I have never won the lottery, it doesn’t seem like a quick swing by the lottery office would have a huge impact in delaying the news cycle.

In Your Own Words:

Another benefit of being the first to break your own story is to share it with your own messaging and with the right spokesperson.

Whether it’s good news or bad news, if the media finds out about it first it will be in their words and may not include all the key points important to your organization. Responsible journalists should contact brands first to hear their side of the story before going to press, but certainly being the one to place the first phone call puts you in the drivers’ seat.

As it relates to our lottery winners, I’m still at a loss for why they felt they needed that preliminary TV appearance. It seems to me that whether the news broke before or after it became official, the reporters’ questions would have been the same – how does it feel to be halfway to a billion dollars?

Eliminating the Gotcha Story

How many times has someone come to you and apologized profusely for something they did, without you even knowing what the offense was? I bet you got over it pretty quickly.

On the other hand, catching someone in the act of a lie or an affront only to have them claim it wasn’t a big deal can be infuriating.

The same holds true for the media. Coverage will almost certainly skew more negatively when the story is broken by the media vs. your own organization. You never want your brand to be perceived as hiding something – that’s never a good look.  However, coming clean responsibly, humbly and honesty can be good for reputation.

So while I think we can all agree there can be a time, place and benefit for controlling the story, whether this was imperative to these lottery winners remains to be seen. But perhaps time will tell if sweet Mr. and Mrs. Robinson have a few skeletons in their closet they were hoping to hide.

In the meantime, I wish them all the congratulations in the word. Not jealous at all.

Update: The couple from Tennessee has been confirmed as the winners of the Powerball jackpot.


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