I’ll leave it to Johnny Cash to say what we all know, “Well, bad news travels like wildfire.”
The 2020s have been defined by headlines that are unsettling at best… but I don’t need to tell anyone that. As public relations professionals, we have to strike a balance between breaking through the noise and doing so in a respectful and smart way. Truthfully, it’s easier said than done. Here are five best PR practices for turbulent times:
Stay true to your brand
In good times or bad, staying true to your brand is key. Every idea should be put through the lens of, “is it authentic? Does it represent our culture?” If yes, that’s great. Other times the answer is no, and that’s okay too. It’s important to set the right tone with your clients and let them know just because you can respond, doesn’t mean you necessarily should. Messaging on important topics needs to be consistent 365 days a year – not just when it’s trending. For extra tips on this, see Kickstand’s previous blog post about ensuring your campaigns are sincere during events like Pride Month and Juneteenth here.
You don’t need to be the first person or brand to respond. It’s more important to take the time to get educated on a topic and put something forth that’s informed and thoughtful. Taking time to learn from the news cycle and see how other brands respond allows PR professionals to provide smarter, more informed recommendations.
Be aware and be prepared
No matter what the topic of the interview, during turbulent times, you can expect a journalist will ask about current events. Public relations professionals can get ahead of this by preparing a Q&A that anticipates these types of questions from reporters. That way spokespeople don’t have to come up with tough answers on the fly. Have the responses signed off on in advance to prevent lag time and confusion.
Read the room
If a reporter isn’t reading or responding to your email during a busy news cycle, it’s likely they’re backed up or pulled into covering the news event. Anticipate that your client’s story may take the back burner for a day or two – sometimes longer depending on what’s going on. Allow more lead time between follow-ups and be patient.
Remember: Reporters are people too
Journalists are known for dealing with the tough news day in and out, but they’re not immune to the burnout and anxiety a difficult news cycle can cause. They’re human too. If a reporter you’re friendly with is working on the tough stories, it doesn’t hurt to send them a note to say you’re enjoying their coverage and know it’s not easy, but their work is appreciated. While this goodwill might not result in a story, it may boost your chances of getting a future pitch read for your client when things settle down. As a former journalist, I know reaching out to a friendly to let them know you’re thinking of them won’t just keep your relationship warm. Especially during times with a lot of hard news, it’s nice to get a message that their work isn’t going unnoticed.