Posts Tagged 'PR crisis'

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.

One of the Saddest Posts You’ll Ever Read

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Ironically, in the first days of 2013 an article shooting_embed_1638265acommanded our attention that led us to send out the following antithetical tweet: “One of the saddest posts you’ll ever read: “Massacre message management” is new PR specialty: ”  If you don’t grasp the full meaning until you read this article,  don’t feel ingenuous or uninformed. It’s a new low-water mark for PR that speaks more about the social and cultural climate in which we practice today and not quite so much about the manner in which we practice. However,  if  this doesn’t make you sad, then perhaps you’ve become cynical.

Don’t get us wrong, we’re not simply reacting to wordplay and alliteration: PR people have been handling crises and disasters since the beginning of the profession. It’s part of our stock in trade.  Nonetheless, it’s a dubious and inglorious distinction to realize that “massacre message management” has become a recognized sub-specialty of  PR practice today.

We’ve shared our thoughts on a new issue that perhaps you weren’t aware of; we’d love to know yours. Looking forward to a healthy dialogue on a thorny new topic in PR!

What Disaster Services Can Teach Us About Public Relations

For nearly a year, I volunteered with the American Red Cross’ Disaster Services Team, responding to calls in the middle of the night for all kinds of emergencies, but most likely to be fires. The experience taught me some indelible lessons about managing expectations, which can be applied to the triage situations PR professionals may at any point encounter on behalf of clients:

1)      Like disaster survivors, clients in distress want to be “made whole” immediately. Keep in mind, and keep reminding them, that regaining equilibrium, and then momentum, won’t come in a night; it’s at least a two- step process. Your goal, to try remedy the present crisis, begins with an initial step toward stabilization, then must proceed to and incorporate a follow-up plan for longer-term action.

2)      Emotions must not overrule good judgment or utilization of resources. By definition, disaster services situations can be truly riveting: from loss of property, or worse, to loss of life, and the concomitant anguish that accompanies both. In PR, hopefully, circumstances rarely achieve this scale; yet, even in overwhelming circumstances, PR practitioners, like volunteers, must keep cool heads and exercise prudent judgment about how best to address emotional needs and utilize finite resources. In other words, PR people must acquire highly developed instincts for discernment and become a quick, but thoughtful study in assessing and applying the most strategic response.

3)      The human cost of disaster is never fully realized at the scene of the situation. The toll and bleak reality of such perilous circumstances often only become evident in the days following the crisis event. It is only through scrupulous follow-up that we can plan and act appropriately to mitigate and manage the fallout that naturally occurs.

4)      Be prepared, pain is ongoing. Little things count. In our role as PR people, we must continuously seek to stay ahead of emerging needs by constantly monitoring the situation and challenging ourselves as to what more can be done to anticipate and relieve suffering and emotional distress. For example, as disaster volunteers, we not only arrive on scene with resources to secure food, clothing and shelter for clients, but we’re also equipped with small touches, like Kleenex, bottled water, comfort kits (toiletries for first nights stay) and Teddy Bears that can serve as a diversion for young children. Moreover, using resources at our disposal, we can help survivors secure in short order replacement medications, eyeglasses, or any number of other necessities that may be needed to give a sense of stability. These little touches reinforce the humanity of the person-to-person engagement as we go about our required documentation.

This approach also often entails listening more than speaking; providing encouragement and hopefulness, in both verbal and nonverbal ways, where needed.

5)      Use technology to full effect. Increasingly, data shows that more and more people turn to social, mobile and digital media for help and information during a crisis. Your crisis plan, as a part of your overall PR, should proactively address these channels in the ways that parallel the way that people use them.

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