Public relations professionals are often accused of "spinning" a story, or stretching the truth. If you believe in stereotypes, the average public relations professional is someone who is trying to sell the public on half-truths to make the big bucks.
At Mack Communications, at least, this is far from how public relations works. The goal of public relations is to help individuals, companies, and officials tell their story. Many companies don't know how to do this best, or how to explain their work to the public in an clear way. Public relations uses "spin" to tell a client's side of the story.
At the foundation of a fair and open government is transparency. Clear communication between the government and constituents leads to greater public trust, civic engagement, and effective policies. This is where the public affairs part of public relations comes in.
Social media and the internet make it easier than ever for local governments to keep their constituents informed. Unfortunately, however, we find that many governmental units are still stuck in the last century. Many also cling to the instinct of no news is good news, putting out press releases only in crises.
It’s that time of year again: We’re here to review what we view as the year’s biggest bloopers and blunders in public relations and communications. For better or for worse, there was no shortage of scandals and outrageous moments in 2017 across the public and private sectors. Here are what we think were some of this year’s biggest (and preventable) PR disasters.
The Infamous United Airlines Incident
Is there anyone who doesn’t know about the United Airlines incident? This now infamous PR disaster began when a United passenger, Dr. David Dao, was violently dragged off an overbooked United flight. The scene was caught on cellphone videos and quickly went viral. Chief executive Oscar Munoz only fanned the flames with his non-apology for having to “re-accommodate” Dr. Dao. A leaked email from Munoz to employees also called Dr. Dao “disruptive and belligerent.” United recovered slightly a few weeks later when it released a list of ten improvements the company would make to avoid similar incidents.
Mack assessment: As we often say on the Mack Report, honesty is the best policy. While it’s best to admit (and potentially apologize and correct) for a blunder early, don’t think it’s ever too late. It’s also important to avoid playing the blame game; take responsibility for your own mistakes. We think United could have kept the situation more under control by taking credit earlier for its mistake, calling it what it is, showing empathy and apologizing to Dr. Dao.
Anyone who has spent time in public relations would agree: The industry is built around relationships. Whether it’s with clients, journalists, politicians, you name it-- forming connections is the bedrock of what PR is all about.
Although cell phones and email make it easier than ever to keep in contact with clients, it’s important to remember these strategies should be used to compliment relationship-building efforts, not as a substitute. Overly relying on email or texting also has its hazards.
For example, consider the oft-cited fact from a 1970s study that only about 7 percent of communication is verbal; the rest is from body language and tone. When communicating solely through email, it can be easy for intended message to become misconstrued. Well-intentioned messages can come across as cold and impersonal. If your client seems distant, pick up the phone: Perhaps they have been reading your emails differently than you intended.
Another hazard of email reliance is that a simple task could be stretched out for days. People get countless emails every day: Waiting for email approval on a time-sensitive assignment can cause you to miss deadlines. More often than not, picking up the phone or meeting in person to hash things out is faster and more efficient.
Here at Mack Communications, we strongly believe in taking clients out for lunch or coffee. Taking time out of your day to meet with a client shows them that you think they are important. It’s also simply a good way to get to know someone as a person, and pick up on better ways to approach your work together.
Remember: Clients, journalists, legislators are all people. Give them a ring!
Every business owner has heard the chatter about social media: “If you don’t have an account, you’re missing out!”
If you're like many business owners not wanting to get left behind on the social media gold rush, you've looked first to Facebook, which seems to be the most approachable platform. You create a page, put up photos, and invite all of your “friends” to “like” your business. Now, you think, “I’ve got to post about how great my company is,” and you put up daily deals, new products, and blab on about how great your service is.
And… crickets. You’re getting one like per post and it’s from your great aunt Edna who likes everything on your page. When does the gravy train roll through the front door of your office?
The problem is that you’re acting like a jerk. Remember the “social” in social media?
Imagine that you’ve come to a party at your friend’s house and you keep walking around handing business cards to everyone and bloviating about your great products and services. People are going to get annoyed very quickly, and you’re going to end up in the corner, all alone. Some people might even “unfriend” you.
Now imagine that you’ve come to that same party, and you talk to people about their families and how their baseball team is doing this year. You bring up a movie you saw or a concert you went to. You heap praise on the hosts and laugh with everyone when the silly cat gets its head stuck in the cereal box. You’re squeezing another couple dozen bacon-wrapped dates on your cracker plate and talking with Shirley when you mention your company and some of the new products or services you’ve been working on. Shirley is okay with that. She’s even interested enough to ask some questions and then she says that Al- “Come over here, Al”- might be interested. And he is interested!
That's how your business needs to act on Facebook; like a good guest at a friend’s dinner party. For every one promotional post you create, your business needs to put out ten posts about the things the other guests at the Facebook party want to hear about. Think less about marketing and more about public relations.
There are a lot of things that go into social media marketing; appropriate content is a crucial component. Get out of the corner and be a good guest at the party.
Rather than fight the onslaught of wrapping paper, pumpkin spice, and Christmas tunes that pervade the end of the year, you can use the holiday season to your advantage. Although you might be tempted to slow operations down as November and December approach, the holidays present a good opportunity to leverage cheery public sentiment and push public relations efforts.
One way to do so is by celebrating your company and the past year’s achievements. For example, if your team has undergone restructuring and/or worked hard in the past year, put up a social media post with a photo of your team stating your gratitude over Thanksgiving. Before New Year’s Eve hits, post on the company blog your top five business achievements for the year, or include them in a Christmas letter sent out to clients.
You can also use the holiday season to mix and mingle. Throw a holiday-themed networking event for potential clients, or arrange a holiday-themed fundraising event for a client/cause your company supports. You can celebrate the holidays and promote your business at the same time.
The late management guru Peter Drucker once said, "The best way to predict the future is to create it."
That's a tremendous challenge in a world of increasing uncertainty and relentless change. How many of us feel we can create our own future much less keep up with the present?
However, if you consider that news about your company or organization is part of your reality in the coming year, then why not create some news the way your would want it presented?
It may be fall, but it's not too early to start thinking about the upcoming holiday season and whether there's an opportunity for you to make news. So much of news is generated by the calendar and is based on nothing more than a little creative thinking.
So, grab a legal pad and a pen and start making a list for ways you can generate a press release or photo op between now and the end of the year. Here are just a few examples:
The popularity of the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money for ALS research provides some helpful guidance when it comes to public relations and earned media.
As you probably know, the Challenge is for someone to be videotaped getting doused with a bucket of ice water to generate awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and to raise funds to help find a cure. It's been a dominant theme on conventional and social media in recent weeks, helping to raise more than $40 million.
Why has it worked so well?
Beautiful summer weather can make it tempting to hold your next press conference outdoors. What's not to like? Fresh air, maybe a cool breeze, plenty of room.
Not so fast. There are lots of gotchas when it comes to outside press conferences. The biggest one is the lack of control when it comes to outdoor conditions. Aside from the possibility of getting rained out (do you have a contingency location?), the outdoor press conference can cause a variety of issues.
Chief among the potential problems is the wind. A strong breeze can cause havoc with your script, even if it's in a binder. Even if you're able to maintain control of the pages, the distraction can throw you off and cause you to lose your focus.
The wind can also do a number on your hair. Men are just as vulnerable as women. The problem is not simply your wind-blown appearance. It's a huge distraction to deal with at such an important time.
A third problem with the wind is the noise it produces in microphones. Even with wind screens, your mic is bound to pick up some wind noise, and that can ruin an important sound bite.