Don’t bury your head in the sand

by Ken McEwen, Ken McEwen Public Relations

Some years ago I spluttered over my cornflakes when I read a client’s name unexpectedly splashed across the morning headlines. The story suggested the business was on the brink of collapse, with the potential loss of a substantial number of jobs.

This was the first I had heard of financial problems. Just the previous week I had been at my usual meeting with the chairman talking in positive terms about our PR programme. He seemed upbeat and was happily talking about new contracts and new opportunities.

Burning business plan

I was still digesting the shocking news when the phone rang and I was summonsed to meet with the management team. When I arrived, they were sat in the boardroom with the company’s accountant.

It appears they had been in negotiation with the bank and were hoping to conclude a deal that very day. However the banner headlines had shaken the bank’s confidence so severely that it was, at that very moment, in the process of putting the company into liquidation.

It seems the story in the paper was instigated by an employee who had been recently dismissed. If the individual’s intention was to cause maximum difficulties for his former employer after his dismissal, he had certainly succeeded.

I am not suggesting that PR could definitely have saved the day. But, coming in after the plug had been pulled, all we could do was to marshal the facts about the collapse. Had we had the conversation even just 24 hours before, there is the possibility the story could have been mitigated, or maybe even delayed until after the rescue deal was finalised.

The purpose of telling this sad tale is to flag up the importance of not burying your head in the sand, in the hope that things will work out.

Perhaps it is because of the ‘light and frothy’ image that some PR companies cultivate, that there is a lack of understanding of the heavyweight role PR can play.

This may explain the reticence of some business executives to keep their PR advisers ‘in the loop’. It’s as if they see informing the PR consultant as tantamount to going public.

If you have chosen your PR consultant wisely, you should have the same sort of trusting relationship that you have with other professional advisers. You need to feel comfortable sharing business issues, knowing that all your advisers will have the knowledge and experience to give you the best advice when it matters.

If you don’t have that sort of ‘trusted adviser’ relationship, it is probably time you changed your PR consultant.

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