Posts Tagged 'issues management'

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

Anger

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.

Reframing Issues for Public Policy in the Digital Age

We’re back! … from taking time away to do a deep dive into Tech PR. (We’ll be writing more about that in upcoming posts.) But in the meantime we stumbled upon this article on reframing issues in the digital age, which should be required reading for people who work in nonprofits. We work principally with nonprofits, and we love them and the causes they represent. The world’s a better place because they do what they do–but, for many, there’s so much room to do more, and do it better! The PR Doctor can’t reach everyone, so in the best spirit of aiding good causes and intentions everywhere, we’re sharing this post from Nonprofit Quarterly. And if you reside strictly in the commercial world and think nonprofit’s not your “thing,” be advised, there’s lots of good information here about shaping public opinion on just about anything. Enjoy!

  

“One of a social advocate’s most critical acts is to frame an issue. In framing, a communicator uses language, metaphor, and other means to bring the community into the issue in a particular way. So, for instance, tobacco control advocates reframed tobacco from a “personal vice” narrative, in which the public discourse centered around individual choice and behavior, to a “defective product” narrative, in which the role of corporate malfeasance and the need for protective regulations became clear. Reframing an issue is hard work, as frames are socially shared and persist over time; but it is worth it, because public opinion and policy preferences are frame dependent. The stories nonprofit communicators tell have the power to make the public more or less supportive of positive changes” … yet

“Too often, nonprofits have mistaken self-promotion and “click bait” as meaningful contributions to the public conversation on complex issues. “Clicks,” “views,” and “likes” only mean so much if the story they carry isn’t helping people to understand the causes of and solutions to complex social issues. More and more, organizations tackling tough social justice issues are recognizing that not just participating in but also changing the conversation is essential to achieving and sustaining meaningful impact.”  Read more.

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.

cellphone device

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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