Bill Bennett

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When public relations should shut up

It’s not hard to understand why public relations companies push clients to respond to negative news stories. Yet responding may not always be the best strategy.

Apart from anything, PR firms bill clients for hosing down bad reports. A response means more business for them. A crisis can be lucrative.

From their point of view, it can feel as if responding to a bad news story is when they earn their money. In a bigger firm, the senior practitioners – which can mean higher charge out rates – often step in to take charge of the issue.

PR companies rarely have difficulty persuading companies to respond to bad news. Spirited defence is hardwired into the DNA of most companies operating in Australia or New Zealand.

But response isn’t alway the best strategy.

A bad story may not a crisis

A bad or embarrassing story isn’t necessarily a crisis. Often these things blow over and are quickly forgotten. Journalist are quick to move on to the next story.

Companies often make matters worse by overreacting and generating fresh publicity. That carefully worded response reminds people of something bad they had already dismissed.

It can breath new life into the negativity. That bad story stays in the news cycle for another day.

That can lead to the temptation for another response and the story cycle lengthens.

Know when to shut up

And some responses use such insincere language, that people who had previously given the company the benefit of the doubt may rethink their take on events.

There are times when a poor response can turn a minor upset into a crisis.

Even a well thought-out, sensitive response written by the smartest PR professionals can blow-up or be read the wrong way. Often PR responses are clumsy. They can open fresh channels of attack.

Each case is different, but there will be times when the best strategy is to shut up. Let the news cycle play out.

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