Why Good PR Won't Solve All Your Problems
We live in interesting times. President Donald Trump replaces White House spokesperson Sean Spicer after six months of talking about "fake news" and just days later former Alberta Conservative Leader Jason Kenny blames the media for focusing on the 5% of the people who voted against the weekend merger of the PC's and the Wildrose instead of the 95% who voted for it. Blaming the media just because you don't like the story never works.
The role of public relations and dealing with the news media in any field has never been more important however. Regardless of whether it's politics, industry or government, the value of good pr has never been more clear. At the same time though, it can't solve everything.
Last week there was an interesting survey on public relations in Canada that slipped under the radar, but it did reveal the importance of public relations in today's world dominated by social media.
The Survey Says...
The survey was done by Nanos Research this spring. It involved 1,000 Canadians and was done for the Toronto public relations firm Signal Leadership Communication.
The short survey study had some interesting, but also predictable results.
There were three questions and the first one asked Canadians how much of a contributing factor social media is to public relations disasters for companies. 54% said it was a major factor and 35% felt it played a minor role. That means almost nine in every ten people asked felt that social media is a contributing factor to pr disasters for companies in Canada today.
I totally agree. So many stories would not have had the traction needed to become outright pr disasters if it wasn’t for social media. I wrote about that in a blog on the United Airlines social media meltdown earlier this year.
The second question asked how the company involved in a pr mess should respond. 70% said they should acknowledge the problem and then communicate, but 23% said companies should acknowledge the issue, but should not communicate.
I agree with the majority, and totally disagree with the people who said companies shouldn’t communicate. More on that in a moment.
The third question asked whether pr is more important now than it was ten years ago because of social media. 76% felt it was more important, while 16% felt it was equally as important.
I totally agree. Once again though the result shouldn’t be a surprise.
Why You Should Talk to the Media
Let’s take a closer look at the second question about what companies should do if they become involved in a social media meltdown. Almost a quarter of those who responded felt companies should acknowledge it, but should not communicate.
I’ve heard this sentiment before, as recently as two weeks ago when I was doing a media training session in Calgary. When I do media training I start with a presentation and use real issues as case studies to spell out how companies should have reacted and what they should have said, so the organizations I work for can learn from history.
A person taking the training said he didn’t think the person who was involved in a media interview that went poorly should have said anything at all. His point was that the person was in a ‘no win” situation and should have refused to comment.
I understood why he was making the point, but with the proper coaching and preparation, almost anyone should be able to tell their story to the media to benefit their situation. If you can anticipate the questions you’ll get, you should know how to respond, with the proper preparation.
I often say the second worst thing you can do when the media calls is say “no comment.” The worst thing you can do is refuse to return the call. Neither helps you. You need to feed the dog.
You’ve likely heard this line from a news reporter or anchor before – “We contacted John Smith for his reaction, but he hasn’t returned our call.” The immediate reaction most people have is that Smith doesn’t want to speak to the news media and when they ask themselves why, not many positive thoughts come to mind.
The Importance of Telling Your Story
I’ve said many times that we live in an era when it’s easier than ever to have personal and corporate brands virtually destroyed in a matter of days, perhaps even hours.
That’s why proper communication is more important than ever. I’m not talking about the type of pr “spin” we’re seeing too often in politics today, I’m referring to honest information sharing to properly explain why a company or an organization has made a decision, or feels a certain way about an issue.
While the number of news reporters continues to erode, the number of communications professionals increases just as rapidly. While I understand that’s concerning to some people who are worried they’re being lied to by big government and big brother, many of those pr people provide a vital role. They ensure the public understands reasons for decisions, details of new programs, or even basic information on statistics and trends.
I know, I used to work in communications and now spend many days each year working with groups on their communications to the media and others.
Good PR Can't Fix Everything
One important point to remember is that good public relations work can’t make up for business and moral failures.
Business leaders who think that if their story is told the right way all their problems will go away are mistaken. The media has the right to tell the story the way it feels is best, ask difficult questions and provide commentary. While a CEO may think a well written prepared statement should solve all their problems, they’re wrong. I’ve told more than one executive in a bad situation that the best they can hope for from some good communication work is to lose gracefully.
There are fine lines between truth, spin and pure bullshit and in most cases the public is smart enough to recognize when its being lied to. I’ve heard politicians for years blame “communication problems” for their government’s low showing in the popularity polls. In most cases, there’s nothing wrong with how they’ve communicated, the public simply doesn’t like what they’re laying down.
No amount of communication can fix that.