Perhaps there have been some bumps in the road lately … a few negative articles in the paper, some poor earnings reports or a messy firing. Whatever the scenario, it is usually at this exact time that one of the bosses can shout, “Smithers, get me some good PR, Pronto!” If you happen to be “Smithers” in this situation, it can be a critical challenge.
Most everyone realizes it is not possible to just “turn on” good PR as if it were a faucet, but there are some things we all can do to help ourselves in difficult times.
Cover Your Bases
While many people think of PR as a nice article in the paper or complimentary TV profile, there are other steps to take first. Make sure the people who are closest to your company or organization are “in the loop.” If there is bad news out there, be sure everyone who is already on your team, including suppliers, neighbors and anyone else who has some connection to you knows your side of the story. That can be done through e-mail updates that are short and well written, a newsletter or a public meeting. Also, having this “Cover Your Bases” plan in place gives you a system that you can call upon when you need a bigger, broader PR effort. (It also provides you with ready spokespersons that know your situation and can provide perspective when a reporter is looking for an alternative voice in telling your story.)
Know Your Media Outlets
One of the quickest ways to sink an “instant PR” effort is to suddenly start calling upon reporters and editors who have never heard of you before. Because we don’t know when the perfect storm of bad PR can appear (think of Denny’s in California where there were 3 restaurant shootings in 3 days), you always have to be developing those important relationships. Journalists with some understanding of your business are better able to write with perspective when bad news appears. That doesn’t mean you’ll avoid the bad news altogether, but if the boss wants “instant PR” you at least have a place to go for some possible balance to the coverage. Also, have a relationship with the people who write for the Journals and Trade publications in your industry. When you can’t get help from the mass media you may get some much needed positive coverage from an outlet that better understands your world.
Educate the Boss
Finally, long before the bad news appears you need to be sure you are a credible source of solid information and perspective for the Boss. Making sure the Boss understands the public nature of our world and that it is not a matter of IF but rather WHEN bad news can hit will help when that day comes. If the Boss understands the give and take in the PR world, you can control the outbursts that start with, “Smithers!”