PR is still often seen as the fluffy, ‘nice to have’ service rather than an essential for many company directors. Here, Bradshaw PR founder and corporate publicist Belinda Hamilton (pictured below) explains the importance of proactive pre-crisis PR and serves up her three golden tips that any boss needs to think about to protect their business.
I have often heard public relations agencies described as a ‘luxury’ or ‘nice to have’ and sadly, we are often the first consultants on the chopping block when a share price takes a nose dive and cash flow is under the microscope. But I also work with company directors who take the opposing view and understand that when the going gets tough – this is the time you need PR the most.
About 80 per cent of what you do when things are smooth sailing impacts how the media will engage with you and your company when the going gets tough. More than half our business comes from company’s who are already amidst a media crisis – and that really pains me. ‘If only they had decided to think about PR and engaging with the media six months ago’ and ‘They have so many great stories we could have told to better position them for this’ are phrases often said around our boardroom table. You see when it comes to PR – it’s all about laying the groundwork and taking a proactive ‘pre-crisis’ approach. If you’re thinking about PR after your skeletons have already come out of the closet and banged on the door of The Australian Financial Review, then you’re in strife. And if a journo from The Australian has been calling you all day and leaving “urgent” messages with your staff for comment, it sounds like you might be in a real spot of bother. Many company directors think that it would never be them who would turn up to the office to find Tracy Grimshaw camped outside their reception with a film crew. But, stranger things can (and I’m afraid to say will) often happen.
There are immediate steps as a company director that you can be taking now to agree and commence your PR and investor relations strategy. These actions aren’t ‘nice to haves’ and you’re not doing them because you want your company to look good. Good PR is a strategic driver of new business and investor interest, and it’s also a key way of planning for a crisis scenario in your company.
Here are three suggestions as to why you should give some serious thought to a proactive public relations and investor relations strategy:
- Identify your key media influencers and start pitching
You need to start forging personalised relationships with the journalists who are influencers in your industry so that when they get a negative tip off about you (or your company), they have a) context b) a level of trust already established and c) a contact in their phone to call to ask what the hell is going on. If you’ve never really made an effort to offer that journalist or publication anything new or given them any help, why would they listen to you? You’ve got no relationship. Engaging a reputable publicist means that their media contacts can become your media contacts. They will organise media briefings and opportunities for you now and get your stories in front of the right people, so that when the time comes and you need someone not to mince your words, you’ve got a couple of contacts up your sleeve.
- Build your personal brand through opinion editorial
We’ve all heard the buzz term ‘thought leadership’ bandied around. It’s supposed to mean you (or your company) growing your profile publicly by doing things you don’t have time for… like talking at conferences in other states, writing papers on innovation and entrepreneurship in your industry, so as to make you look like you are a cutting-edge disruptor or at very least a leader in your space. But my experience with company directors is that you’re probably trying to spend some time with that thing called your family on the weekends, rather than travelling to Western Australia to deliver a talk on ‘Breaking the Mould’. Having a great publicity agency retained means that they do a lot of this work for you. Great publicists are great publicists because they are great writers. A proactive PR agency will be able to ghost write opinion editorial with you, which is not only topical and tied to breaking news and current affairs, but it will be written in plain English and not in technical speak. I am often reminded that every particular executive role has their own particular skill set. Now that sounds obvious, but we often think that because someone is confident and clever that makes them a good speaker or a good spokesperson. Your CEO or CFO may be an influential speaker and know how to bang out a brilliant company report, but they may not be the best person to formulate an engaging concise piece of newsworthy content which is free from industry jargon. Let the right people do the right jobs. Publicists are often ex-journalists with developed skills in developing concise creative written content. On that note, if you don’t have your PR person or communications leader at least reviewing your ASX announcements prior to distribution, start tomorrow. Positioning is everything.
- Attract quality employees by targeting industry news
If you aren’t communicating your company wins and milestones in the media then you are missing a key opportunity to promote your company values and even attract quality employees to want to work at your company. You want people to understand your brand and hear those stories which go to your vision and make you get out of bed every day. I’m not saying that ever story will be worthy of a piece in The Sydney Morning Herald or a spot on the Today show, but don’t overlook the value of industry magazines and online news sites which your potential customers, employees, and investors are all reading and watching. Each story has a place, and a great publicist will be able to get your company stories in the right target publications. PR people work with media outlets every day and they know what that particular outlet is looking for and how to secure you unpaid placements in that space. It will not only decrease your advertising costs, but PR and unpaid editorial space is much more credible.
There are many more reasons why your company should have a public relations agency on board, and one last one is the ability for an external media strategist to give you unbiased advice that your marketing team often will not. We all know that as employees within a company it is often hard to deliver the cold hard truth to our superiors. A PR agency is essentially your external eyes and ears, and they have an understanding of the general public and what people reading the news and reading about your company will think and say. There needs to be a spot at the executive table for confident intelligent and experienced media professionals who can deliver the cold hard facts back into the business, and in doing so, make sure the company is well-positioned for any crisis that might strike. Reputation is of the utmost importance and once tarnished, it is very hard to rebuild – proactivity and crisis planning is key.