Lame PR. C-suite jargon. Corporate zombies impersonating humans.

When did all the body snatching occur that left (in its wake) a population of stiff and numb suits devoid of human intellect and judgement?

by David Brier

“The management would like to express its deepest regret over the series of events leading up to…”

Boring. DOA. Cliché dregs from memo hell and the leftover crumbs from legal intervention.

Yet some companies and CEOs think this is the way to resolve a public misfire. All it does is prove that the issuer of such statements is disconnected, out of touch and out of step with the rest of the world.

“Public Relations” Could Use Some PR

Take any word designed to liberate a company from the fray, words like “authentic” or “honesty” and within months, that word has become a tool of the press and hype. Diluted in the process to meaningless dribble.

Some PR agencies forget that the “R” in PR stands for relations and choose instead to follow the antiquated “For Immediate Release” model. “For Immediate Release” is a one-sided mass communication ignoring today’s endless stream (and dialogs) of social media, tweets, comments, customer reviews and more. Those type of press releases are more a cousin of spam than news.

Fact is the average business day sees more than 2,000 press releases distributed across the wire services with more than 80% of the releases being irrelevant to the focus area of its addressee.

Why PR Has a Bad Name

In short, PR is called earned media for a reason. You have to earn it.

Just look at BP and the Gulf oil spill. How the company responded to that crisis certainly became a case study for bad PR handling in future business college courses. (Advertising didn’t have solved it. Their form of non-English-speaking executives making public apologies certainly didn’t solve it.)

“While commercials casting BP’s efforts to clean up the spill in a positive light may have seemed like a good idea, newscasters got plenty of airtime out of pointing out the fact they wanted to spend millions on commercials at the same time business owners, fishermen, and others were struggling for their livelihoods due to the spill that BP was responsible for,” PR consultant Rebel Brown said.

There’s never been a better time for great PR and there’s never been a worse time for bad PR.

PR Crises are Nothing New

The field of crisis management originated with the environmental and industrial disasters of the 1980s (Exxon Valdez, Tylenol). But the need is more acute than ever thanks to social media. How a brand handles itself in a crisis is a greater litmus test of what the brand stands for than any mission statement it writes or marketing plan it executes.

Few brands will encounter a PR disaster on the same scale of a sinking ship or some international gaffe or some Oval Office violation or some CEO moment on the order of Abercrombie and Fitch.

But every brand does face potential crisis: some ad that offends, a product that malfunctions, or a key figure caught in a scandal.

Waiting until a PR flap happens is no substitute for correct anticipation.

Or you could wade through the 5 stages of PR as Fishburne so succinctly illustrates here.

Tomorrow, Not Yesterday

So much of PR is based yesterday’s news when it should be connecting the dots of today’s news with tomorrow’s innovations. And in this faster-than-you-can-blink age of social media, tweets, comments, customer reviews, and more, you have to operate on tomorrow’s timeline just to keep up with today.

The lesson learned (so we can escape PR hell unscathed): Realize PR isn’t about handling yesterday. And knowing that, handle the future by kicking today’s ass.

Thanks to Tom Fishburne, founder and CEO of Marketoonist, a content marketing agency that develops cartoon campaigns for businesses such as Unilever, O2, Kronos, and the Wall Street Journal. He was previously a VP at Method, the innovative home care brand, and led brands at Nestle and General Mills. He learned how to draw cartoons at Harvard Business School. Sign up for his weekly marketoons at Marketoonist.com.

Originally published at www.fastcompany.com


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