Anyone need a good public relations job? There may be some openings soon. If the events of the past few weeks are any indication, there are a lot of folks out there who could use a good public relations expert on their team.
Even if you can't afford to hire a PR firm to represent your company, there are many lessons to be learned from the misguided public relations strategies of some very high-profile people.
Note to self…
Seriously, is there some sort of rule that says presidential debate candidates can't bring any notes to the debate? Rick Perry has repeatedly made debate errors that he easily could have avoided had he just jotted a few things down on the back of a cocktail napkin before the debate. Don't enter into any PR situation without having your facts straight. And, if you don't know the answer to a question, just admit it and promise to get back to the questioner later. Don't focus everyone's attention on your gaffe by insisting on trying to remember.
One of the reasons customers were so livid after the recent freak snowstorm in the Northeast is that power companies did a terrible job of explaining exactly how much damage the storm had done. While no one wants to go without power for a week and a half, it's a lot easier to deal with if you know what you're in for. All companies should take heed: Give your customers the worst-case scenario and let them be pleasantly surprised if you do better. Pretending you're going to be able to fix a problem when you know full well that you won't does nothing but foster mistrust and anger.
Any minute now…
Penn State has made various statements regarding its current allegations of sexual abuse, but it has not done a very good job of handling what has become an enormous PR crisis that is threatening to cause irreparable damage to the university's reputation. Even in a situation where your company isn't yet sure what to do, some sort of proactive announcement or update will go a long way toward letting the media (and your customers) know you have the situation under control and are dealing with it as quickly as you can.
A guy walks into a lawsuit…
Whether he's guilty of sexual harassment or not, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is sending a bad message about just how serious a candidate he is. Rather than joke about the sexual harassment charges being made against him, he should seize the opportunity to talk about his views on women's issues, employment, sexual harassment — anything other than make light of accusations that are anything but funny.
Occupy Wall Street prides itself on being an organization without an official leader — a strategy that makes sense for a group fighting for equality. However, not having an official spokesperson is making it almost impossible for the group to communicate a clear message or dictate a call to action. Even if your company has disparate leadership styles and personalities, make sure your communication is concise and clear. Air out your disagreements in private and settle on a clear message before you deal with the media. Most importantly, make sure the media knows exactly who at your organization should be their point of contact.
Foot in mouth, again
Oscar producer Brett Ratner probably could have recovered from his careless and casual use of an anti-gay slur if he'd only known when to stop talking. Instead, he made the ill-advised decision to appear on The Howard Stern Show — never a good move for a celeb trying to recoup their public relations losses. His resignation and that of his choice of Oscar host, Eddie Murphy, soon followed. If your business makes a communication misstep, consider that sometimes, less is more. Don't make matters worse by saying more than you need to.
Can we have a do-over?
Netflix's woes are starting to be old news, but they so thoroughly flubbed their PR efforts of the last year that it'll be a long time before anyone replaces them as tops on the PR disaster list. The moral of Netflix's tale: Do not say anything publicly until you are sure you know what you want to do. Netflix was not in a crisis situation in which it was obligated to respond immediately. The company could have taken all the time it needed to figure things out and roll them out smoothly. If your company isn't yet sure how to proceed, saying nothing is the best PR of all.
Jeanette Mulvey is the managing editor of BusinessNewsDaily. She has written about small business for more than 20 years and formerly owned her own e-commerce business. Her column, Mind Your Business, appears on Mondays only on BusinessNewsDaily. You can follow her on Twitter at @jeanettebnd or contact her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.