2019’s Top Five Public Relations Lessons:
1. Train rigorously for media interactions – The New York Jets (NFL)
Being interviewed is stressful, which is why PR pros must consistently coach our clients on how to perform well during media interactions – especially gaggles and press conferences. Consider the plight of NY Jets Head Coach Adam Gase, whose first-ever briefing as a head coach was notable for his facial expressions and not his comments. The result was an unflattering social media storm. (And a season that is just awful!) Issues like this can be spotted in recorded practice runs that enable you and the spokesperson to see what the media will see. You can also use these sessions to rehearse key messages, run through answers to expected questions, and brief on the audience. Do these four things to prepare for your next media interview.
2. Be mission-driven – The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences
The Academy tried to address declining ratings with a bold choice for emcee, Kevin Hart, and changes to voting categories and the broadcast’s format. Yet many of the changes backfired, being branded as blatant attempts to lure viewers at the expense of fulfilling its mission to recognize excellence and connect the world. The desire for popularity often prompts us to make decisions to address short-term needs rather than evolving within our mission to create long-term success. When unpopular choices reflect your mission, they’re more likely to be understood and forgiven. Learn how to put your mission front and center in your communication strategy.
3. Be mindful of political issues (particularly now and as we head into the 2020 election!) – The Wayfair Walkout & Equinox/SoulCycle
Rafts of data show that top-performing employees want to work for companies that reflect their own values, and that customers choose brands who do the same. Even popular brands can be damaged by actions that go against perceived shared values. When employees discovered that Wayfair had contracted to provide furnishings to a facility housing migrant children, they staged a walkout and leveraged public opinion to create a more far-reaching call for the company to abandon the deal. And after discovering that the owner of Equinox and SoulCycle was hosting a pricey event in the Hamptons to support President Trump’s re-election bid, members responded angrily. In each case, boycotts were called for and social and traditional media headlines kept the stories alive. PR pros must monitor contracts and owner/board political contributions, offer counsel on avoiding issues and create crisis response plans to respond rapidly. Read more about the critical elements of a successful crisis communications plan.
4. Respond as quickly as possible in a crisis – Boeing
Immediate reaction to a crisis is the first step to shaping the story and mitigating reputational impact. When Boeing faced a nightmare situation when two of its 737 MAX aircraft failed in flight, killing hundreds, the manufacturer’s response was slow and impersonal. By waiting to comment, others were able to craft and advance a narrative about the crashes. We all now know what truly happened so it’s easier to look back and question things. But when Boeing finally made public statements, they were devoid of atonement. And because the initial anemic crisis response wasn’t followed up by action, trust was eroded with pilots, flyers and even stock analysts. Responding to a crisis requires advance planning, constant iteration, concrete actions and authentic accountability. Boeing most certainly had these plans in place. It was just a challenging time. Check out five tips for a stronger crisis response.
5. Show your humanity – Johnson & Johnson
Once a paragon of good PR practice (recall the Tylenol scandal), J&J took a hit this year from its reaction to a court decision related to its role in the opioid epidemic. The company made a common mistake: ignoring the human impact. Attorneys often take the lead in crafting responses, but PR professionals must be in the room to stand up to the legalese and infuse as much humanity and compassion as possible into communications. Being accountable isn’t a check-box activity. It requires empathy, responsibility and action in addition to smart legal tactics. The key is establishing a trusting and collaborative relationship with legal counsel and crisis experts before you have to work together under pressure. Learn about The Fearey Group’s crisis management practice.
The political undertones of several of these mishaps provide a window into the perils that may await once the presidential campaigns are in full swing ahead of the primary and caucus season (which begins on February 3). We look forward to learning with you from celebrated successes and the messy mishaps that are bound to happen in 2020. Guaranteed!
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!
Onward to the 2020 election season,
Aaron Blank, President and CEO
The Fearey Group