By Gerard Braud
Our last article focused on the need for public relations experts to be more strategic as they accomplish tactical tasks. You were reminded that the articles you write must result in behavior change. Your Tweets, Facebook posts and videos must also result in change such as better employee productivity, more sales, or a changed behavior in your customers.
Once you have set up your strategic goals for the year, you must fight what we will call, “Emergency News Release Syndrome.”
Symptoms of Emergency News Release Syndrome include:
1) Emails from an executive telling you in the middle of the day that they need an unplanned and unscheduled news release by the end of the day.
2) An executive walking into your office asking you for a news release immediately for something that he or she has known about for weeks, but did not trust you enough to share with you previously.
3) Someone from a random department, that achieved an internal goal, wants you to write a news release to brag about their accomplishment. No one in the outside world, or even outside of their department, cares about it.
Several years ago I worked as a Vice President at Best Buy, which had one of the best processes I have ever seen for dealing with Emergency News Release Syndrome. It was in place before my arrival, so the credit goes to my predecessors.
Best Buy’s communications department had a policy that no news release would be written if the information did not correspond with the strategic objectives of the overall corporation. For example, if a corporate goal was to increase sales, the news release had to contribute to an initiative to increase sales. Also, if someone in IT came rushing to the communications department asking for a news release about a gadget that did nothing to improve sales or productivity, their request was rejected and no release was written. They were told to write a memo and place it on the bulletin board within their department.
Another policy was that there would never be a request for a news release for something that the communications department was kept in the dark about. When the executive leadership held confidential meetings about big, future initiatives, or potentially negative issues, a vice president from communications was brought into these confidential discussions from the beginning.
Both of these approaches worked because the communications team instituted a “Gatekeeper” policy. All requests for news releases had to go to the Gatekeeper. The Gatekeeper and her team would evaluate whether the information contributed to the company’s strategic objectives.
There are two somewhat sarcastic lines I use when presented with an Emergency News Release request:
• Do you want fries and a large coke with that news release?
This references the concept that you are not in PR just to take orders like someone at a fast food restaurant.
• Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.
This references the concept that in PR, your day, week, month and year should be planned out. Yes, you must be flexible on days when things are truly beyond anyone’s control, but man-made emergencies that result from poor planning or corporate secrecy are unacceptable.
You should do these things:
1) Set PR objectives annually that are in line with corporate objectives.
2) Appoint a gatekeeper and communicate to all what the PR department’s policies are regarding the gatekeeper system.
3) Push back and stick to your guns when people violate the gatekeeper system.
In short, be a welcome mat for strategically communicating and not a doormat for everyone to wipe their feet on.