What could be more helpful than your colleague suggesting you pitch that story, plan that stunt or issue that press release?
That would be great if your colleague was a communications professional and not the IT guy, an HR exec or someone else who isn’t coming from a place of experience or savvy.
Of course, it takes a village to raise brand awareness and good ideas come from all corners of an organization. Part of being a good communications leader is being able to listen to diverse opinions and mine for ideas from all likely and unlikely places, but we’ve all had to run interference on uninformed or misguided requests that come from people who think they know best, but in reality may not. Ill-fitting requests may even come from those who outrank you, and you’ll need to employ some diplomacy and clever maneuvering to come out on the other end unscathed.
Here are some of the top issues you may face, and some tips for how to address without risking damaging your relationships:
1. Your colleagues are really excited about something they’re working on and want you to “announce it publicly,” only it’s not really announcement worthy. This is often enough a good problem to have because it means your colleagues are engaged with their work and value what you do enough to come to you.
That said, sometimes your tech guy might be really excited about an update to the infrastructure that you know deep in your PR heart that even beat tech media just won’t care to cover. In these instances, it’s best to help redirect that energy rather than shooting it down. Encourage your colleague to author a blog post about the update and couch it in something more high-level about what the news means for the company’s bottom line or how it will improve the customer experience.
2. Your boss or someone who outranks you asks you to help with something that has nothing to do with your job or brand. Maybe an executive is really excited about some new charity he just donated to or joined the board of. Maybe she’s in love with some activity his kid participated in, and she misdirects her enthusiasm into a PR request. Maybe the exec asks you to share something via your brand’s social channels about this organization, or to even help with that organization directly.
In instances like these, it’s best to first approach your direct supervisor, if at all possible, and let them run interference. It’s much easier for your boss to defend you and relay that you don’t have the bandwidth to take on work outside of your job description, or that the proposed social post doesn’t fit within the brand guidelines for content that the executive has previously approved.
If going to your supervisor is not an option, craft a polite note to the executive asking for help to identify how the request ties into the work that your brand does, and explain that you’re happy to help find the right hook so that the information is timely and relevant to your audiences. Many will get the hint that the request was not appropriate and back down. In some cases, you might need to bite the bullet and find the right hook yourself if you don’t feel comfortable pushing back directly.
3. Your colleagues ask you to plan a press event or create a stunt to get “free media.” Few things get under a PR pro’s skin more than the never-ending misconception that public relations is free advertising. It’s even more fun when your peers think you can effortlessly whip up a press conference or dream up the next Ice Bucket Challenge overnight. It’s flattering, but it’s unrealistic and often unnecessary.
It’s not always an easy sell to convince colleagues that you can help secure the same amount of media coverage with strategic pitching, with less time, money and stress than would go into planning a press conference or a stunt. Dig up some examples of previous ventures that prove your point, using success stories from your own or other brands. Map out a tactful and strategic plan and sell it hard.
4. Your colleague tries to micromanage a media opportunity. Maybe a peer from another department referred someone to you to serve as an interview subject for a piece, and you’re not prepared for it. Maybe your colleague is working with you on a particular media opportunity and he starts to overstep his boundaries. He gives you unsolicited advice about what exactly you should say to a reporter or critiques how the piece comes out, telling you what you could have or should have said.
This behavior is obviously counterproductive and, depending on how approachable and respectful your colleague is, might require a polite email, a phone call, a sit-down or even more formal intervention if the person continues to get in the way of you doing your job.
5. Your colleague goes rogue and talks to the media without going through you. The worst way to learn about your colleague going rogue is after a story publishes. Hopefully, your colleague comes to you to let you know that she spoke with a reporter, which gives you time to follow up and do damage control, if necessary.
Let your colleague know in the nicest possible way that she should always touch base with you first before speaking with media so you can properly set up the opportunity and make sure things go smoothly. Rather than exerting your authority, position yourself as the bodyguard for your colleague. This approach comes across as more supportive, and generally you can help convince the one-off renegade colleague to come to you first.
Feel free to add any additional advice in the below comments.
Allison Steinberg is the communications director at Empire State Pride Agenda.