Opinions about branding by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal

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Monday, June 21, 2010

The PR War Nobody Talks About

The real star of the new Karate Kid isn't Jaden Smith, although it's
clear that he is a natural. It is Jackie Chan, who, in a departure
from his usual comedic roles, shows a much more serious side. In fact
to me it seemed that he wasn't even acting.

In the movie, Chan very believably teaches Smith that the way to win a
war, paradoxically, is to put your mind at peace. Banish anger and
hatred, and replace it with stillness.

It's a paradox because one instinctively thinks that anger at the
enemy breeds the ability to destroy them. Dehumanize them and you can
take them down.

But that's not true - the emotional instability creates vulnerability
to attack from someone who is calm and focused.

The same thing holds true for PR.

We may instinctively think that to make the client look good, we have
to tell ourselves that the client is good, has done good, can do no
wrong.

That's not always true, and the public knows it. If you go along with
the sham, the public won't trust your client and they won't trust you
either.

Does that mean you are supposed to fling your mouth open and sing like
a canary about the client's every bugaboo? Of course not. That's just
silly, and extreme.

But it does mean that the very best PR specialists face the
uncomfortable truths first, fast, and quickly, not because they're
"mean" or "harsh" but because they want to help their clients. We are
like surgeons - and a damaged reputation is like cancer. The best
medicine is preventive, but once the cancer has taken root and spread,
it has to be cut out completely, or the client's reputation will die.

It is sad that the BP story has become an excuse to blame PR
specialists for all of the company's woes. The reality is, we do what
our clients tell us to do. The key (besides having a commitment to
being ethical) is for the PR specialist to

1) trust in and advocate for the truth

2) convince the client to tell the truth as best they can (and
withdraw if the client refuses for no good reason) and

3) engage with those who are critical of the client in a fair, open,
but strong way.

Things don't always play out the way you want, it's true, but you can
still do your best and trust the universe (the public) to be your net
if you are still attacked.

Example - a story about Verizon the other day by NY Times columnist
David Pogue. I was alerted to it by a negative Tweet (against Verizon)
by Tim O'Reilly. Don't have the link anymore, but the story focused on
an accusation against the company by an unnamed internal source.
Source said that Verizon was telling employees not to proactively
sugest the data blocks that could help customers avoid inadvertent
charges caused by clicking the "connect to Web" button.

The Verizon rep's response to this accusation was great. I don't know
if it is true, but it sounded credible to me because she confronted
the charge directly and comprehensively, and then denied it flatly in
language that was clear, simple, and for which the company could be
held accountable.

I read the story and thought that perhaps the accusation was wrong,
though I couldn't be sure. Definitely it seemed unfair for O'Reilly to
assume guilt. So I replied to his Tweet saying that it seemed
distorted.

I don't represent Verizon. But as a member of the public I offered a
comment based on their PR specialists' response to an accusation. The
response was based on respect for the truth and the public's ability
to discern and distrust a liar.

Bottom line - you can't hide from reality, and in the end, the public
decides everything - not the client and not the PR rep and not anybody
else. Your job, if you are in PR, is to be a facilitator for the
truth. Don't let your client, your employer's organizational culture,
or your own psychology get in the way of confronting it.

Posted via email from Think Brand First