Eden is president of Gillott Communications and bestselling author of three books, including “A Business Owner’s Guide to Crisis PR.”
The way your business runs and the skills your employees need have shifted. The same is true regarding the way you must interact with other companies, influencers and one another. So why is it that many companies and business leaders keep committing public relations mistakes?
As a strategic and crisis communications consultant, I’ve noticed a common theme of why some PR scandals tend to stick around longer than others: Companies lack the goals and social and analytical skills needed to craft a PR strategy that helps them work through public missteps. And as I learned from Daniel Tannenbaum, economics professor at the University of Nebraska, jobs require more social and analytical skills today than they have in the past.
Successful companies and business leaders need to understand and interpret the data and read the proverbial room. (Albeit, “the room” might continue to be virtual for the foreseeable future.) This article explores how to close the gap, create a balance between the necessary social and analytical skills and increase your chances to repair your reputation successfully.
Which do you tackle first: social or analytical? Neither. While the analytical and social skills are like peanut butter to your jelly, you can’t make a PB&J sandwich without bread (or goals, in the case of PR). All three ingredients work in harmony.
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The Bread: Goal Setting
“What do you hope to achieve?” This is the first question I ask when onboarding a new client. The response is often, “I wish I could go back in time…” But you mustn’t begin by setting yourself up for failure. Are you not sure if what you wish would happen is within the realm of possibility? While rare exceptions exist, these guidelines are generally true when setting goals for your PR recovery strategy:
• Realistic goals: Setting a realistic goal typically entails telling your side of the story before the other side sets the tone or listening to and reassuring your stakeholders (e.g., employees, customers, vendors, investors, etc.).
• Hard to achieve, but possible goals: These goals often aim to flip the script by changing the narrative shortly after the news breaks or by convincing the press to issue a retraction.
• Unrealistic goals: An unrealistic goal is one that focuses on going back in time, making everyone like or agree with you or expecting a reporter to write a favorable story about you after you refused to answer questions.
The Peanut Butter: Analytical Skills
Once you’ve assessed the current situation and how you got to this point, you need to figure out where you’d like to go from here. This is where you draw on your analytical skills. You can do so in three steps:
• Collect and analyze information. You need to know the facts of what happened. Building a strategy based on half-truths or lies is a recipe for disaster.
• Problem-solve. Charting a course to redeem your reputation will require planning how to overcome likely obstacles and having back-up plans if you run into unexpected roadblocks.
• Make decisions. It’s game time. Once you’ve gathered the facts and brainstormed challenges that you must solve or you might encounter, you must choose the best path forward.
The Jelly: Social Skills
You need social skills to build and maintain relationships with your stakeholders. In my experience, a lack of or temporary lapse in social skills is why many people and companies become the subject of scandals.
People communicate verbally and non-verbally. You need to be aware of all these cues to be effectively informed of how you’re currently perceived and where you need to go.
To emerge from a scandal and come out safely on the other side, you must use a combination of conflict resolution, active listening, empathy and showing respect.