There’s a dichotomy in the way many clients view PR and their relationship with their PR agencies.
At a superficial level, there are those who view their agencies as coverage production factories, pumping out content to try and get as many column inches as they possibly can. These are the ones who don’t get the best value for money or have the lesser appreciation for the role of PR in terms of reputation management.
Others do see PR in the wider context of their business, the reputation of their brand, how the service they offer or the products they sell are perceived in the wider market.
The majority don’t see this side of PR until they are stuck in a crisis. In these instances, it may be that they turn to the agency to place a sticking plaster over a gaping wound, because they haven’t involved them early enough to prevent the injury from initially being so bad.
Take this week’s news, for example.
James Swinstead, 85, died ‘almost instantly’ last week after water rushed on board the British cruise ship Marco Polo as it was battered by waves during severe storms. Now, his widow, Helen says she has been offered a 25 per cent discount off of her next holiday as compensation.
Any PR practitioner worth their salt would have stepped back from this situation and seen how offering a widow a discount on sailing again on the ship on which her husband died would be seen, at best, as insensitive and at worst quite offensive. In a state of high emotion it is hardly surprising the company has now become the focus of their despair.
The circumstances of Mr Swinstead’s death, not withstanding comments subsequently made about the maintenance of the vessel, were extreme and tragic. Appearing to fail to respond in a measured and compassionate manner gives the appearance of compounding the tragedy and, instead of leaving the cruise ship company appearing concerned, in tune and going the extra mile, they risk more damage to their reputation than the accident itself would have caused in the first place.
And so to the message – recognise that there are potential PR implications in almost every aspect of your business and every strategic decision you take. Apply that thinking as part and parcel of your operation, bring your PR advisers into the fold early, have a process for managing crises like this and you won’t go too far wrong. Remember it is better to get it right first time than to jump too quickly and get it wrong.