It’s been a crazy whirlwind these past weeks, from local news up till the international fairy tale that made us all stop and think that hey, the world can be a beautiful place. Well that lasted for a split second and we were back to reality – gun shootings in schools, innocent souls being shot while an embassy is officiated, volcanic lava taking over an island, and more heinous situations. Not to sound completely depressing, but that is the reality of the world, one which each and every respectable PR practitioner has to be aware of before proceeding with any campaign.
Now let’s shed a light on the main news for the past couple of weeks. When I say main, the type of news which manages to be on the cover of each and every daily newspaper in Malaysia as well as each and every social media feed in Malaysia – anything related to the 14th General Elections held last May 9th as well as the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19th. What’s so special about these two occasions you ask? In what sense does a PR practitioner gain any knowledge from these two very different occasions?
Lesson 1: Time Your Press Releases and Announcements Are Made.
Your client may want to announce a new partnership or even a brand new feature to a product, but take it as your responsibility to advise them against any launches occurring at the same time of a mega event which will have the whole world’s eyes on. Don’t believe me? How well did the last press release you pitched fare during the Tun Mahathir’s appointment as the seventh Prime Minister of Malaysia? Unless you were advertising heavily in every national newspaper and magazine or if your brand had anything to do with the Bata shoes Tun M was wearing, your poor release was bound for the gutter. Well, until there was nothing else to talk about pertaining to the GE14 but then with the current situation your luck and my luck in press release pitching are set for the grave unless we represent Hermes Birkin.
The first rule in public relations is to help the journalist write a newsworthy story. Truth be told, nobody cares about your corporate partnership as much as who will be the next Selangor Chief Minister. Hence apart from re-angling your pitches to make it interesting to the public to read, consider the timing you release this news as well.
Lesson 2: Learn to hold your tongue.
As a communications strategist or public relations consultant (be whichever you choose to associate with best), one cannot overemphasise the urgency and need to know when it is appropriate to speak and when it is appropriate to hold your tongue.
Personally, I stand by the rule that my political allegiance and religious faith are two matters which remain close to me and can never be shared publicly. It’s a matter of me and the ballot box or me and God. These two matters should have no place in anyone’s prejudgment of my work and capability. Religion may not be much of an issue of prejudgment being based in Malaysia compared to the other factor but this is what brings me to this point.
There’s no harm in voicing out your opinion and practising freedom of speech, however, take a look at Meghan Markle, Kate Middleton and Queen Rania for a split second. All three have yet to make an opinionated remark identifying President Trump despite all evidence that proves his manner. Why so? The Duchesses and Queen are symbols of their people, they represent their people, their brand, their emblem. PR practitioners represent the brand, the company. We are not princesses but we act as the mouthpiece of the company. The first person any member of the media contacts for a comment is the PR person, not the CEO directly. Well, the CEO may be the physical mouthpiece of the company but he or she will turn to the PR person for the right thing to say in times of crisis. The PR person holds the responsibility of crafting how a brand is understood and seen.
Making a rather opinionated statement can represent the brand and client in a different light when as a matter of fact, the brand/product/client is apolitical at all times. Not to say that a PR practitioner is to be a complete AI figure with no political stand. You are entitled to your own belief and stand, but these stands must be kept personal and separate from the brand you represent for the sake of professionalism, regardless of whose side you are on be it opposition or government.
Lesson 3: Always be prepared.
I guess this applies to everyone. GE14 results were unpredictable despite the campaigning -efforts. The Royal Wedding – well who could predict a last-minute blunder from the bride’s stepsister resulting in Prince Charles himself walking her down the aisle.
The other lesson one can observe clearly is that as a PR practitioner, a crisis can happen at any given point but you can’t afford to crumble and panic. If you do, then maybe crisis management part of communications isn’t for you. What you can do is to be prepared with Plan B, predict the worse case scenario and keep Plan B, Plan C or even Plan D in your pocket for crisis control. We can’t control when or where life throws lemons, but we can definitely make lemonade popsicles should the time come.