PR practitioners can learn quite a lot by paying attention to the current political scene.
Doing so provides a tuition-free course in public relations that’s not taught in any college or university.
Keep these tips and takeaways in mind as you work to prevent crises, build trust and boost your authority:
Don’t expect loyalty, but work to build trust
- Don’t expect your supervisors to remain loyal to you if a PR crisis develops. If you want loyalty at the office, bring your dog to work.
- Execs will often look for someone to blame, even if they were the ones who caused the problem.
- Lying to the press is not a crime in most instances, but getting caught in a lie will destroy your credibility. (If your client or agency is under investigation, never, ever lie to an investigator.)
- Agency managers and supervisors will often take credit for programs that please clients—even if they had nothing to do with the work. (Any politicians ring a bell?)
- Don’t make promises to clients unless you are certain you can deliver. (Remember this?)
- Don’t hog the spotlight. Be generous with praise, recognition and credit, and share the debate stage.
- When speaking or writing, be precise in your word choice. Be careful what you promise to constituents, clients or colleagues.
- Be flexible and open to compromise during planning sessions. You must be able to work with people on all sides of the aisle.
- Don’t be discouraged if you are part of a pitch team that loses new business. How many disgraced, replaced or displaced pols have resurfaced as TV pundits?
Maintain a good reputation and handle crises
- It’s very easy to lose your good reputation with the press. Rudy Giuliani, heralded as “America’s Mayor” by the news media for years, has recently seen his reputation crumble.
- Be aware that agencies may sacrifice innocent account team members to keep a client. (Can you think of any politicians who’ve thrown staffers under the bus to save their own skin?)
- Being argumentative with reporters typically leads to additional negative coverage. Don’t ever threaten, intimidate or cajole a journalist—they always get the last word.
- When selecting a spokesperson, be aware that any past controversial actions by the individual might resurface.
- Just because you say something is “off the record” doesn’t mean that it is. The reporter must agree—before you make the statement. Even then, your statement may surface.
- Don’t make comments about individuals that are in poor taste. Assume that everything you say or write will leak.
- Supervisors and execs—much like senators or representatives—usually know less about a situation than their staffers do. If you’re in a position of authority, empower staffers to shine. If you’re just an employee, don’t be afraid to pipe up.
- Unlike presidential hopefuls during the primary debates, be nice to members of your account team—and to all your colleagues, for that matter.
- If you’re in a PR crisis, don’t respond immediately. Think before you act. Asking for a recall of information never works—especially if it’s already been sent or delivered to the press.
- If a client is caught red-handed, don’t become part of an attempted cover-up—no matter what your supervisor instructs you to do.
- Never assume that what a client tells you is the absolute truth. Always make certain that information a client provides is accurate before speaking to the media.
Why PR people should get involved in political campaigns
If you can join a political PR account, jump on it. If you work at a firm that doesn’t handle political campaigns, volunteer to work for a candidate or a political party for an election cycle. Jumping into such a fast-paced, feverish environment will force you to hone your PR chops and stretch your comfort zone. You’ll learn a great deal, and you’ll gain valuable contacts for your career down the road.
Just don’t count on 100% loyalty or honesty from everyone around you.
A version of this post first appeared on the Glean.info blog.