Must the PR manager be the Grinch?

Do you keep coming up with “what if” scenarios when writing Q&A’s on a campaign? Or do you work with a PR manager who does endless inventories of possible problems when doing risk analysis? Does (s)he start to annoy you? You’re probably not alone and your communications expert is him/herself tired of that seemingly counterproductive attitude in otherwise creative processes.

But why do we PR managers insist on behaving like the party pooper? And is there an alternative part in this film?

The obvious answer to the first question is that you’d rather get those questions before launch and in a protected environment than out in the open – especially considering that the tone of public debate is amplified and that civil discussion to express disagreement is not something we can count on nowadays. The less obvious answer is that this exercise of testing plausible reactions to your message is quite useful to make your campaign crisp and sharp. The validity of arguments like “why are we doing this” is put to proof not for the purpose of defeating, but strengthening the message and giving the tone the right tone. In my experience, the vast majority of probing and confrontational questions never comes to use, but the time spent listing them on the Q&A’s is not lost and can be – with a clean conscience – be reported as ‘coaching’ on time reports.

But there is a way to reduce the chance of being type-cast as the Grinch.

First, explain why you’re doing this and what good things can come out of this exercise. This sounds obvious but too often I’ve seen co-workers from the communications tribe who just assume the project specialist understands that this is part of the job.

Also, be kind in your tone. There’s a chance the co-worker presenting is personally committed to the project and criticism (even in the form of role play) just makes him/her act defensive.

A great opportunity to show you’re on the same team is when problems do appear. That’s when the PR manager can switch from being the one probing arguments to the one holding people’s hands. When subject to criticism, organisations may easily fall into self-doubt and be ready to apologise for its existence in an effort to make it all go away. Obviously, in some cases, mistakes are made and apologies are in order. But when not, who if not the PR manager is to remind co-workers that they did think it through and they should argument to defend the validity of their message? And when facing a strong criticism tsunami, who if not the PR manager is to reassure co-workers that this, too, shall pass?

Sergio Guimaraes – Speaking of PR