People react, people respond, people reach out. That is what PR should stand for according to Scott Stratten, President of UnMarketing.com and author of “The Book of Business Awesome/The Book of Business UnAwesome.”
In our highly connected society today where professional communicators are no longer the gatekeepers of information and stories, Stratten’s summary of what the public relations profession should be doing is completely on point. “PR professionals need to be the catalyst for communications,” he said.
Stratten was the luncheon keynote speaker at the PRSA Dallas 2012 Communications Summit today. The conference’s focus was on the importance of building and maintaining relationships, and that means more than just those relationships with big influencers. The overarching message that came from the various speakers of the conference was that communicators need to proactively invest in relationships with sincerity and then maintain those relationships by providing open channels of communication and actively participating in those conversations.
With the prevalence of social media and the Internet, everyone now has a voice and this is something that professionals need to understand and embrace in order to thrive and achieve their goals (or their organization’s goals). Listening to what people are saying, or not saying, about your brand or company and then joining their conversations is essential for all businesses. Whether you’re trying to humanize healthcare or you’re advocating women’s rights, listening is key to understanding how to tailor your message so that it can create the greatest impact for your organization or cause.
So you’ve done your research, you’re listening to your audiences and you’re establishing a communicative relationship with them. What next? As a public relations professional, you’re either going to be getting your key messages out or putting out fires.
In the event that your oil rig explodes and dumps nearly 5 million barrels of crude oil into the ocean, your company’s less than ethical competitive tactics are leaked to the public, or a spokesperson for your organization accidentally sends out a highly offensive tweet from the company Twitter account, you need to already have a working crisis contingency plan in order.
Since it is impossible to respond to everyone and everything, it is important that you decide who your priority audiences are and focus your communication toward them. Conversing with others humanizes your company and could potentially squash a potential crisis. But once that crisis has occurred, which it will on some level at some point for every organization, your crisis management team needs to be speedy, nimble and human according to Melissa Flynn, APR. Flynn, the senior leader of brand management and public relations at The Richards Group, advises that PR pros need to convey what their response is to a particular situation and what they’re doing because people want to know.
According to Alison Freeman, Strategic Communications Consultant and Trainer at WRTN Associates LP, “a success measurement of crisis PR is how much a story doesn’t have legs.”
Going back to conversations and social media, when you’re not squashing stories and situations that are potentially damaging to your organization or client’s reputation, you’re working to get your messages to key audiences and stakeholders. There are many avenues through traditional and social media that allow you to accomplish this objective, particularly with the two-way communications nature of social media.
In regards to being a catalyst for communications, Scott Stratten warns “don’t try to have a presence without being present.” If organizations fail to get involved, their communication will not be perceived as genuine and sincere. This is especially true with Twitter. According to Stratten, “Twitter is a conversation, not a dictation…75 percent of tweets should be @replies.”
To achieve active participation, especially when there is market competition, PR professionals need to humanize their organization. Amy George, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Cooper Aerobics, advises people to own and embody their stories and tell those stories in a diverse and creative manner. Some of the best and most effective types of stories an organization can release are ones that highlight other people rather than corporate topics. Tell your story through other people. George suggests that you try to explain how someone’s story has or can impact, effect and change another’s life. But remember, you don’t want to minimize another person or group’s story. Case in point: the World Wildlife Fund’s ad campaign “Tsunami.”
“These are real people grappling with real issues, trying to find solutions,” George said.
Wentz, Laurel. “9/11 Ad for WWF Causes Tsunami of a Crisis for DDB Brasil.” Ad Age. Crain Communications, 02 Sept. 2009. Web. 11 Oct. 2012. <http://adage.com/article/global-news/9-11-ad-wwf-tsunami-a-crisis-ddb-brasil/138775/>.
All other quotes and information are from speeches at the PRSA Dallas 2012 Communications Summit.