Archive for the 'Media Relations' Category

Essential Skills for PR Pros: Dealing with People Who Are Angry and Those Who Lie


You don’t have to be an Ivy Leaguer or a scholar to be an excellent PR pro; however, a good PR person shouldn’t ignore (and in fact should seek out) sound research that offers sharp insights on skills crucial to public relations work. This post is about a few bodies of research from the Ivy Leagues and other academia that can benefit all PR pros.

We’ve written about some of these snarky public relations issues in the past; these resources offer deep thoughts and strategies to deal with some of PR’s most troublesome situations.

Dealing with an Angry Public

For years, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sponsored a joint, intensive professional development experience by this name. We first heard about it we believe in the 1980s. For a lofty price, this seminar has led participants through training experiences in persuasion, negotiation, crisis analysis and problem solving—all skills any mature PR professional should have. After examining no doubt hundreds of corporate public relations crises—some well known, others lesser known, but still highly volatile—seminar leaders, Lawrence Susskind and Patrick Field, went on to publish a book of the same name in 1996. Needless to say, these are critical skills for professionals in public affairs, issues advocacy, and reputation management; yet they also hold great value for PR professionals throughout the ranks.

One essential lesson that can be derived from Susskind and Field’s case study approach gets to the heart of public relations practice:

  • Focus on mutual gains. In any adversarial relationship, PR people need to keep focusing on mutual benefits. This not only has been a consistent positioning in the changing definition of public relations, but it’s also a critical difference between public relations and lobbying–another area we’ve also written about recently—which tends to be motivated more by “winning” or at least making the other party lose.

Doing Business with People Prone to Lying

Similarly, Leslie John in the July-August 2016 issue of Harvard Business Review emphasizes practicing reciprocity in dealing with people in situations where they may be prone to lie. Not inconsequentially, we see this as potentially any situation where stakes on the outcome are high. While it’s not for us to say who may or may not be given to lying in any particular situation, it would be disingenuous to say that public relations people never encounter or may never have to deal with liars.

As something as an antidote to dealing with people who lie, John offers this advice:

Humans have a strong inclination to reciprocate disclosure: When someone shares information with us, our instinct is to match their transparency.” So, when reciprocity is practiced—when PR people share little-known facts to outsiders—it encourages the recipient to open up and make admissions to an equal degree.

Although John cautions that reciprocity works best when it is initiated, it must also be approached cautiously: Reciprocity should be based on “an issue of strategic importance,” John writes, but later goes on to say that “it should start small: Share a substantive but not critical piece of information. Only if your counterpart reciprocates should you continue the tit for tat.” In other words, what’s disclosed should not be damaging, but it should have some value to the other side. When this is done, John says “it can foster trust and facilitate better outcomes through collaboration and joint problem solving.”

Many PR professionals accustomed to working with the media may recognize this strategy as a good basis for effective media relations. While this is not to suggest that journalists practice anything other than forthright questioning and truth-seeking motives, it is also true that journalists’ relations with PR pros can often be adversarial until both parties work hard to establish trust. Often, this mutual trust is created through a similar kind of quid pro quo.

Similar guidance offered by these publications and echoed in others, especially Beebe and Beebe, include the following:

If you have advice that’s worked in dealing with angry constituencies or with people who lie, let us know in a comment below. We’d like to learn from your experience.

Pitch Perfect: So are PR gifts considered ‘bribes?’

Gift GivingWe’re taking a brief hiatus to do some internal restructuring at PRDoctorChicago. But thank goodness, the world is full of meaningful content that can be shared from others through the Internet. To that end, here’s another timely re-post.

We’ve been writing about public relations versus lobbying and this post by Jill Downie for Al Arabiya English on “gifting” journalists comes as a natural extension of that post? Is giving freebies to journalists in return for coverage acceptable, prudent, ethical? If so, when? Under what conditions?

This post got our attention because it addresses one of the everyday dilemmas that PR pros deal with. It’s been our experience that common sense and common courtesy provide simple guidelines for some of the most basic of these issues. However, this post delves into the ethics of situations and practices that might not appear so clear. Hope you’ll read, enjoy and learn. Feel free to let us know below if you have questions.

One of the most debated subjects within the media industry is the grey area of gifting.    To read more, click link below.

Source: Pitch Perfect: So are PR gifts considered ‘bribes?’

Stockpiling Good Will: Media Lessons from Gen. David Petraeus

Gen. David Petraeus giving interview in Iraq.

Taking a few weeks offline was good for gaining a healthy and considered perspective on some major stories in the news. We’ll be looking back on these stories over the next couple of weeks. But first, like everyone else, we were saddened by the downfall of Gen. David Petraeus. His uncharacteristic lapse in judgment and resulting fall from grace were both surprising and disheartening for a nation in need of heroes and leaders. Yet, some media reports suggest he may not be out of the limelight for very long. Why? Well, clearly, Gen. Petraeus is man of considerable intellect and talents. But if he emerges from this fray faster and stronger than some others have, it may well be due to his well-documented skills in cultivating media good will. So Petraeus’s fall from grace may hold a cautionary tale for PR pros and the C-suites they report to about building good relations with the media.

Gen. Petraeus was reported to have enjoyed good press for at least the past decade by careful cultivation of the media. In sum, his behavior can be described as what we at MediaWorks call “stockpiling good will.” Here are some clues on how he built up such enviable relations with the press and, perhaps, some lessons you can take away in kind:

Access. Gen. Petraeus understood that carefully doling out access was the “coin of the realm” for building trusted relations, and he did so, not simply by providing access via formal channels, but by providing access, up close and personal.  He was known for his regular phone “chats” with reporters; he took select reporters on his jogs; he took them behind the scenes in the command rooms and quarters where decisions were made. In one instance he even took a reporter with him aboard a Black Hawk helicopter to survey a battlefront. And wherever he took them, he gave each of them the sense he was taking them “close to the action.”

Engagement. Petraeus no doubt also scored major points with media by engaging them on flexible terms.  In granting such unusual access, Petraeus followed through by being agile in how he responded to reporters’ queries. Recognizing the limitations within each situation, he demonstrated he understood the “rules of the game” by providing information however it would be helpful—on record, off-record, on background, etc. In each case, reporters no doubt felt they were experiencing access, engagement, and ergo, candor, of a rare or unprecedented kind.

Enthusiasm and Insight.  Media love sources who can deliver good information in digestible chunks (the proverbial ‘good sound bite’.) Beyond­­­ the basic news release, news pitch, or one-time story strategy, Petraeus and his staff clearly understood what was required to advance a progressive story—and, apparently in most instances, they provided an impressive combination of insight and information that gives even the most complex story real “life”, with real human dimension. Yet, even in cases where the insights provided weren’t especially profound, the combination of access, engagement and enthusiasm made reporters feel they had been taken on a “unique” adventure and encouraged them to find meaning in the interaction.

So these appear to be some of the ingredients to Gen. Petraeus’s steady increase in popularity, with the media. While not exactly “top secret,” they are lessons missed frequently by companies in handling their media relations. Will Petraeus be able to use these tactics deftly in a public comeback? Are there lessons here you can extract for creating your own helpful media environment? Only time will tell ….

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