In Media Relations, Timing is Everything

The horrific Sichuan Earthquake left many dead or injured (courtesy of szbluewater)

The recent spate of cataclysmic events happening around our region is simply awful. To date, more than 50,000 people in the Sichuan area are either dead, missing or buried, and Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar has left more than two million homeless and tens of thousands dead. As we flip the papers, page after page describes the sad story of human tragedy caused by these natural/ manmade (some say that the cyclone is due to global warming) catastrophes.

From what I understand, both incidents are still unfolding. In other words, they will continue to dominate media spaces for quite some time.

So what do international disasters have to do with your public relations efforts? A lot actually.

First, you need to decide if you are still going ahead to issue a press release on your new product launch or whether that can wait. Sure, your competitors are lying pretty low now, and the Great Singapore Sale is just around the corner. People have also just got their bonuses, and the time is ripe for the harvest.

However, do you think the press will bite? Even if they do feature your new fancy shmancy thing-a-ma-jig, will people actually notice it?

Second, you have to decide if there are some guerrilla tactics you can employ instead. If your company has been harbouring a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy for some time now, this is the moment to go out there and show what you are doing to help make the world a better place. Of course, this should be genuine and heartfelt (but I am not going to go into a debate on ethics here).

Therein lies one of the universal laws of PR, which is the Law of Timeliness. As much as possible, try not to move too vigorously against the tide of public opinion or a tsunami of earth shaking news. Your PR efforts may end up bloodied after that.

So what should one do when faced with such a situation? Should we just cancel everything, go home and sleep?

The first thing you need to do is to inform your key stakeholders and manage their expectations. Let them know candidly and honestly that you have done whatever you could, but Mother Nature/Al Qaeda/ NKF/ etc is just up against you.

Next, you should try to cut your losses. This is probably difficult if you work in a large organisation and all the plane tickets, hotel rooms, and meals have already been booked to fly in the global HQ team. Well, perhaps you can trim some of the highlights of that big media do a little and see if you can do more things inhouse.

Finally, you should try to look for the next available window of opportunity. Normally, news cycles do not last forever. People do tire of hearing the same news over and over again, no matter how sordid the new developments are. Look for that glimmer of light through the clouds and use that for your publicity. After a bout of particularly bad and nasty news, both reporters and readers are ready for something more uplifting and positive. That is when you strike.

You can have the best laid plans of mice and men, but things may (and will) go awry. And very often at the last minute too. However, don't just be a victim of Murphy's Law. Instead do something about it and turn it in your favour.

(NB - I have just given to the Myanmar Cyclone Relief Efforts and am considering giving to the Sichuan Earthquake Disaster. Do help if you can too.)

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