Should you just stay quiet

Should you just stay quiet?

Introduction

Should you bother with PR if your organisation inherently gets bad press?

Quite a lot of people who listen to The Public Relations Podcast work in small teams in the public sector. They could be in government or public-funded charities or bodies.

But sometimes public bodies can find themselves prone to criticism whatever they try and do.

Permanent organisations like governments are easy to criticise. They tend to be faceless, emotionless organisations that put out cold corporate statements while “taking your money”. That makes them easy to attack and blame for all sorts of woes in life.

So, should you even bother with public relations if all you are going to do is be criticised? Would it be better to just keep your head down?

Why you might want to stay quiet

There are good arguments for staying quiet.

It is much harder to attack someone who isn’t saying anything or responding. Without them saying anything it’s hard to find any hooks to latch onto to use against them. Because they don’t rise to the challenge, there’s no conflict (which we humans love of course) to drive a story or keep our interest.

Without noise, it gets….. well….. boring.

The news agenda is no different. It needs fuel to be able to continue to attack someone. If there aren’t enough new angles then the public and journalists get bored of it. Just like a fire, without fuel, it starts to go out. If you start saying things, almost anything, it could be twisted to bring the fire back to life.

Why might you want to speak up

There are a few good reasons you might want to.

Maybe the success of your organisation relies on you getting across a message and that currently just gets drowned out by criticism.

Maybe other people are fueling the fire and things are getting worse and you want to stop that. If you are keeping your mouth shut but others are finding enough new angles to keep the narrative alive then it could be time to speak up.

Or maybe you have entered a sector which inherently draws criticism and you want to turn that around. For example, if you are in a startup in wealth management or private jets you could draw flak from people jealous of those who use such services. Or, maybe you operate in an unpopular field like coal mining or oil production and the narrative is growing against that.

Let’s say you do want to speak up. What can you do?

A lesson

An interesting example to look at when talking about this issue is the Royal family in the UK.

There is an often-quoted mantra that the Royal Family reportedly stick to that says, “don’t complain, don’t explain” and it works to a degree.

But the Royal Family isn’t entirely quiet when you look more carefully. It has relied a lot on PR over the years.

At the time of the death of Princes Diana, Prince (now King) Charles had an approval rating of something like 20%. Camilla Parker-Bowles, the woman who many blamed for helping to split up Charles and Diana, was described in the media as the ‘most hated woman in Britain’.

Yet, Charles’s approval rating was transformed and in 2023 Camilla Parker-Bowles will become Queen Consort with the public having warmed to her.

How did that happen? By staying quiet?

Well, they themselves may have stayed quiet but a PR person called Mark Bolland did the talking through his actions.

He spent years designing and executing narratives, press events and providing stories to the media to gradually transform the story people were hearing about Charles and Camilla.

The press was told about events where Camilla was gaining access and acceptance, such as meeting the Queen or revealing to the press about meetings with the rest of the family, her charity work and the like.

Over the years it gradually chipped away at the narrative and changed it.

Can you turn around the narrative if everything is against you?

If the narrative is against you, if the zeitgeist is against you then probably no. BUT, you can probably do enough to make some inroads.

Remember that today’s society is segmented. There is no one “public” anymore.

Let’s use a celebrity example because Hollywood magnifies PR principles that we see in business. Will Smith is still trying to claw his way back from the PR disaster that was his slap at the Oscars. To do that, is he talking to Variety or industry publications? No. He is releasing content and talking to his “warm” audience on social media.

At the time of writing this, he recently posted a video of people in another country with a picture of him as they did acrobatics. In effect, he was getting other people to endorse him as popular and liked.

So yes, you can fight the narrative, you can chip away at it but don’t expect miracles. It’s going to take some time.

Can it be done by a small team or a startup? Again, yes but you need to ask yourself how important is it that you turn this around and how long have you got. 

IS IT WORTH IT ACTION STEPS: 

  1. Be clear about what the current narrative is about the area you are in. What are people saying?
  2. What would you like them to say? If you want that to say “we like you” then that is no good as it’s too unclear. Be specific. What sentence do you want them to say?
  3. How helpful would it be if you turned that around? What tangible benefits would you see?
  4. How much would the effort to turn this around cost? Try and guess a monetary amount because someone at some point is going to ask.
  5. What benefit would that give in financial terms? It’s a huge guess of course but what difference would it make to your organisation if people viewed you that way? Would it make your work easier, reduce complaints, allow your work to take less time and be more efficient? Or, one of the best reasons to do it, is because the CEO is asking for it!

Image credit: Photo by Sound On

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