Category Archives: Consumer Relations

Rinse and Repeat

"...or else the whole thing will come undone."

I’ve diverged from my usual corny metaphors these last few blog posts, but I’d like to return to my literary roots to discuss crisis communications.

WARNING: Extended Metaphor to Follow

So you have this wool sweater, right? And it’s like your favorite article of clothing, but the knit pattern poses a serious concern. At any given moment you could get caught on something and cause a snag. So what do you do? Obviously you aren’t going to put it on and sit in bed all day, surrounded by the safety of your blankets.

That would be a bit extreme, but chances are you are going to avoid mosh pits when wearing it. You plan to wear it on a nice calm day with lots of book reading, until—uh-oh! You’re friend’s zipper gets caught on the threads when you are hugging. Now you have a giant loop hanging from the sleeve.

You must act quickly and tend to the snag, or else the whole thing will unravel, leaving a gaping hole for all to see.

This, my friend, is crisis communication. It’s all about awareness, preparedness, and action. PR professionals, and all members of a company, must be vigilant before, during, and after a crisis to achieve effective communications.

All to often, a company does not have a crisis plan in place. A lack of crisis planning can have disastrous results. Preparation can greatly decrease the magnitude of a crisis and make it easier to handle. It’s not rocket science folks, but people make mistakes in crisis management every day.

I will admit, that not all crises can be avoided or even predicted. Skittles, for example, is in the early stages of a PR crisis of a very unique nature. Both the New York Times and the blog Spin Sucks have provided coverage on the issue. According to the New York Times, “Trayvon Martin, the teenager who was shot and killed by a crime watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., last month [was] carrying only a packet of the candy and a bottle of iced tea.”

Since the controversial murder, Skittles’ sales have skyrocketed and the candy has become a symbol for supporters of Trayvon. Some media outlets and consumers are calling Skittles out on the profits made from the tragedy. They feel the candy’s slogan “Taste the Rainbow,” gives the company a perfect opportunity to support racial equality.

Instead. Skittles has only released a broad statement offering their condolences to the Martin family. And in this situation, I think they have done the right thing—for now. If the pressure for a corporate donation continues to build, Skittles’ will be forced to address the public. I am not saying they should donate, but I do think they should at least make a statement.

I don’t think they should concede to the public’s pressure—they did not encourage purchase of their products for the cause—it happened organically. I do, however, think they could highlight other ways people can contribute to the Martin family.

It may not be possible to predict all tragedies, but organizations can still prepare on a broad level. An overall understanding of risk factors can help avoid crises or at the very least make them easier to manage. The lessons are right there in my sweater story:

  • Avoid Mosh Pits = Avoid Risky Situations
  • Plan = Uh…Plan
  • Uh-oh! = Recognize Crisis
  • Tend to Issue or Leave a Gaping Hole = Action
  • Rinse and Repeat = Apply in the Future

Whatever you do, don’t ignore the crisis, or else the whole thing will come undone!

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Political Claustrophobia

A PR pro once said, “Public Relations has cluttered our already choked channels of communication with the debris of pseudo-events and phony sound bites that confuse rather than clarify.”

"We're gonna need some Aloe Vera for that burn..."

Ouch, we’re going to need some Aloe Vera for that burn.

This is how Guth and Marsh decided to end their chapter on Political and Public Policy Communication–with a biting quote from the late public relations educator, Scott Cutlip. I don’t mean to argue with the deceased, but wasn’t this the natural progression of politics? I’m not sure if we can justly blame public relations for “choking” communication in public affairs…but maybe we can?

Truthfully, I’m torn on this matter. If political campaigns are all about presenting a positive image for a candidate, does that mean there is an inherent “spin” factor? I remember learning about propaganda techniques in high school; such as card stacking, testimonials, and glittering generalities. I can’t help but read the descriptions of these unethical means of persuasion and see some overlap in public relations.

For example, Glittering Generalities is defined as, “words that have different positive meaning for individual subjects, but are linked to highly valued concepts. When these words are used, they demand approval without thinking, simply because such an important concept is involved.” Remind you of anyone? Think Quest has a full list of techniques if you are interested in learning more.

When I think about PR and politics, I am reminded of a book I read a few years ago called Boomsday, by Christopher Buckley. In short, the book follows “a morally superior twenty-nine-year-old PR chick” and blogger (oh God, remind you of anyone?) who aids in a controversial political campaign. The story is set in the near future where the American population is struggling to support the large baby-boomer population as they enter retirement. The PR chick councils her client, a presidential hopeful, to campaign for government incentives for euthanasia of the elderly.

Say what?!

Turns out the PR chick did not actually believe euthanasia was the answer; her efforts were meant to bring attention to her client and the issue at hand. Thankfully this is a work of fiction because it is wrought with unethical behavior. The book does, however, represent the power of public relations and campaigning in politics.

It can be difficult to distinguish between the many faces involved in a political campaign—like what is the deal with lobbyists?  According to NPR, lobbyists have similar goals to PR professionals, but “lobbyists have to disclose their activities. PR professionals do not.” Now that is a loaded statement! The NPR broadcast, Under the Radar, PR’s Political Savvy, takes a direct stance on the work of PR professionals in politics. Needless to say, the broadcast is less than favorable to the profession.

The broadcast received criticism from practicing PR professionals who use the PRSA as their religion. One commenter argued, “This is incorrect, at least for the 32,000 PR professionals in the U.S. who abide by the Public Relations Society of America’s Code of Ethics.” Perhaps as a young professional, I am able to see both sides of this argument. I mean really, how does the PRSA enforce ethical practices?

I have every intention of practicing PR in a fair and just manner, but I can’t speak for others in the field. After all, there are always a few bad apples in every orchard. But does that mean you should burn the thing down? I hope that a few bad apples won’t undermine the integrity of the public relations profession.

My advice? Don’t do drugs and stay out of politics.

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