Why is our PR person always in such a hurry?

I am an assistant professor at a major research university, and I often get calls from our communications director wanting me to share my particular expertise in an interview for a news story.  She’s very insistent on my responding right away, which is very annoying.  Why can’t they wait for a convenient time for me to do the interview?  Is this standard practice for public relations people, or should I confront her on this?

It depends.  Do you want to be in the story?  Or do you want to be left out?  The reason the communications director is so insistent is that the reporter has told her that he or she has a tight deadline, and if you don’t do the interview before that time, you will not be quoted.  They will quote someone else.  No matter how important your expertise is – or how much it will contribute to the story – rarely will a media outlet delay publishing a story to fit in with your schedule.  There is always someone else they can quote instead.  So please go easy on your PR person.  She is on your side.

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The Importance of Being Silent

Two things happened this morning that made me think about our new “very connected” world.  The first was a (thankfully, positive) discussion with a journalist about something that had happened years ago, but that is still present on the Web.  “Nothing ever goes away anymore,” he said.  So true.

The second was an incident of someone I knew, planning to forward an outraged response to an email she had received, but accidentally sending her response to the original sender instead.  Ouch!

In the first instance, it does amaze me how a simple Google search of my name produces items from jobs and volunteer activities long forgotten by me – but not by the Web. In the second instance, who hasn’t meant to forward an email with a comment to a friend or business associate, yet accidentally sent it to the originator?

We have a tendency to think that famous people – actors, politicians, media figures – are the only ones who have to worry about this.  After all, they have such a large audience, and in many cases, a wrong phrase or embarrassing video gone viral can put the brakes on their careers.

But we all have audiences we care about, and we should be mindful that what we do and say may become public.  Obviously, we should behave well anyway; but a slip in demeanor nowadays can have wide-ranging and long-lasting consequences.

As public relations counselors, we’re often tasked with encouraging our clients to communicate – to tell their story, present their message and respond quickly and clearly in a crisis.  But we now have to add a caution to our communication trainings.  After all, anything you say publicly “can and will be used,” will never be forgotten, and may define your forever.

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Don’t let this happen to you!

In a recent Twitter campaign, McDonald’s sought to promote the fact that the chain bought fresh produce from farmers.  First came the #MeetTheFarmers hashtag on Twitter; later in the day, the company launched #McDStories to generate positive stories from consumers.  Almost immediately users began tweeting stories about food with worms, food poisoning, and other such appetizing fare.  The large number of negative tweets caused a flurry of press coverage, embarrassing the company.

McDonald’s is not alone in experiencing a social media disaster.  Australia’s Qantas, car-maker Honda, and clothier Kenneth Cole are just a few more examples of corporate social media marketing plans gone awry.

Social media offers a great new venue for widespread exposure – especially for companies selling to consumers.  But it’s a double-edged sword that can also offer an opportunity for widespread embarrassment – as disgruntled employees, disappointed customers or professional gripers vent their frustrations in a very public way.

Understandably, seeing campaigns such as McDonald’s fall apart may make a marketing executive shy away from using social media to promote his company’s products or services.  But this type of unintended consequence can be avoided by remembering two important things:

1.  Have a Strategy.  As with any other public relations/marketing tool, you should know why you are doing the campaign.  Does it advance your brand?  Is it a good fit with your marketing goals?  Does it reach the right people with the right kind of message?  All of these questions should be asked before any campaign – of any type – is launched.

2.  Be an Emergency Manager.  A big part of emergency management takes place before the crisis happens.  Good emergency managers think, “What’s the worst that could happen?”  If there is a good chance your brand could be hijacked and trashed, you may want to try something else.  Even if you can’t think of a worst case scenario, have a crisis plan ready for handling any negative fallout.

Finally, monitor your campaign on a regular basis, so you will know how it’s going, and be ready to spring into action if things go awry.

There are always risks when doing social media marketing, but if well-planned and monitored, it may be well worth it for your company.

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Reputation Management 101

Reputation managementReputation management is an important part of public relations.  It’s many times more difficult to repair a broken reputation than to maintain a good one.  So it would seem obvious that company owners and executives would keep reputation management as one of their top agenda items.  If only that were the case.

Ideally, company executives will consult with their public relations team on a regular basis – to make sure their actions are well-conceived and communicated accurately.  After all, the best communication is not solely from a company to its publics.  It’s important as well to facilitate communication to a company from its publics.  That’s why most PR pros work hard to stay in touch with public opinion on behalf of their employers or clients.

Often, however, company executives charge ahead without giving much thought to how their actions will be perceived.  If things do not turn out well, that’s when they bring in their PR people, expecting them to fix a public perception that by that time has already been sealed in concrete.

You rarely see PR disasters with companies or organizations that have been around awhile.  Their management has learned to head off any unpleasant reactions to what they do by including their PR staff in the decision-making process.

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A reputation is a terrible thing to lose

In the past several hours, the news of the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s reversal of its decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screenings has saturated the web. People have been weighing in left and right – literally – with opinions on both the original and subsequent decisions.  However, if there’s one thing everyone seems to agree on, it’s that the organization’s reputation has taken a serious hit.

Komen is one of the best-known charities in the world.  Its ubiquitous pink ribbon is not only worn by individual supporters, it’s displayed on numerous consumer products.  Its Race for the Cure is a signature event that supporters of women’s health have been proud to participate in.  But the decision to de-fund Planned Parenthood’s screening projects put them squarely into the middle of a political fight, causing a huge backlash.

This could have been prevented if Komen had followed these simple public relations rules:

Consult your PR counsel.  Although an established charity, Komen made a rookie mistake by not fully considering the public relations ramifications of its original decision.   You have to wonder:  Were PR people even in the room?  Any competent public relations counselor would have taken them through the various scenarios of what could happen and counseled them in advance.

Respond immediately.  Predictably, the news of Komen’s decision flooded the web, and its critics dictated the terms of debate.  Instead of getting in front of the story, Komen waited 24 hours to post a response online and another day before doing any media interviews to try to explain their decision.

Know your message and stick with it.  In their comments, Komen executives gave three different reasons for their decision, making it look like either they didn’t have a reason, or they were covering up the real reason.

Have a crisis plan in place.  Perhaps because the Komen Foundation has previously had nothing but positive media coverage, its executives didn’t think crisis planning would be necessary.  But a crisis plan is like home insurance; you hope you never have to use it, but it’s important to have.

However things turn out, it’s almost a given that the organization will spend a fortune on public relations now to repair the damage that could have been prevented much less expensively.

Sadly, it may take years to do so.

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