Archive for September, 2013

Public Relations is Tough Stuff (And How You Can Prepare Against Guerilla Tactics & Message Interruption)

gold megaphone

In the myriad daily matters that go along with our PR jobs, it’s easy for pros to forget that the battle to win hearts and minds, and influence behavior, can be tough and brutal stuff. I was reminded of this in late August when Greenpeace managed to hijack Shell’s thunder with a masterful prank. [A series of uncomplimentary banners unfurling at carefully orchestrated moments during one of Shell’s high-profile sponsored events.] The first news stories of the occurrence broke on August 28; some 21 hours later, Shell was reported to be starting a review of its global PR strategy, looking to streamline the roster of agencies on its multimillion dollar account. Related? Who knows? Such reviews are often months in the making; but, it’s a sure bet that the prior incident came up in the discussions.

While I can’t help but be impressed with Greenpeace’s moxie, I also felt a bit of Shell’s inevitable angst. As a PR and event planner, I know how much hard work and painstaking detail is involved in orchestrating a big event. Yet, one has to give it to Greenpeace for being dedicated and clever in its advocacy—determined to deliver its message at the lowest possible cost. Therein resides the PR pro’s dilemma.

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An Age of Disruption

Let’s face it, we live in an age ready-made for message interruption and guerilla tactics: With social, mobile, digital media, and beyond, the world has never been more interactive. Ergo, the ability (threat) of having your campaign/message/event hijacked has probably never been greater. So what, if anything, can professional communicators do to plan for the unexpected and minimize possible threats. Here are few ideas we came up. We’d love to hear yours.

1.       Think Like Your Adversary. Don’t think so narrowly as to simply focus only on your message(s). Anticipate adversarial points of view in the environment and prepare relevant counterpoints to them. Today issues and reputation management are as much a part of ongoing PR as anything else.

2.      Brainstorm The Ways Your Message Could Be Hijacked. Be sure to look for unintended consequences: Consider the ways that your message or method of delivery could be appropriated, and build in necessary safeguards. Plan how you will execute those safeguards.

3.       Establish Appropriate Monitoring And Response Mechanisms.  Match your response resources to the anticipated degree of threat. This can be everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. (It never ceases to amaze us, for example, how many organizations encourage live-tweeting from events, then fail to designate someone to monitor the Twitterstream!) Again, think brand journalism, or, coming from our background, online newsrooms and political war rooms.

4.       Rehearsals, Status Checks, Secured Access. Of course, where possible, rehearsals and, increasingly, safety/status checks, diminish the margin for error.

Who knows whether any of these could have prevented the debacle for Shell in its highly contentious, long-running battles with Greenpeace and other environmental groups. Yet, any one of them might just be enough to save your next event.

Don’t forget, experience is its own best teacher: tell us your “war stories.” Talkback with more lessons learned!


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