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5 Ways to Pick Your PR Battles

October 30, 2012

“You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em”

I am that person: singing every word to The Gambler at the end of a party, at the top of my voice. That’s just how I roll. 

But hey, Kenny Rogers had some important advice in that song. Sometimes you need to hold your ground; other times it just isn’t worth the battle.

PR is no different. You’re going to write stuff that people change. You’re going to give advice that people ignore. You’re going to get input that is just downright stupid.

Knowing when to ‘fold ’em’ can be tricky. How do you decide when it’s time to concede the point or to stand your ground?

You have to make a judgement call each time, but here are some questions to consider:

  1. Is it strategic or tactical? Sometimes the issue at stake is about the broader strategy, which is tied back to your business objective. So,  will a change in strategy will affect the final outcome? For example, will pushing back the distribution of a media release by a week impact the final outcome? If it’s tied to an external time trigger, it will. But if it’s just your own timetable, then hell, a week won’t matter. Think about the end point, not the nitty gritty of execution.
  2. Whose reputation is on the line? When clients ask you to do something lame like stick an obvious sales pitch into the middle of a media release, sometimes you can sneak it in and hope nobody reads it. But if it happens all the time, and your name is on that release, it damages your brand as well. Same goes for other shit that journalists hate, like sending releases to someone when you know it’s not their beat, just because the client wants you too. Or spamming the entire media sector, just because your client wants ‘wide distribution’. You need to educate the client about professional standards in the industry you work in.
  3. Do you believe in the ‘essential rightness’ of your advice? A.T. Kearney, a founding father of management consulting, said “Our success as consultants will depend upon the essential rightness of the advice we give and our capacity for convincing those in authority that it is good”. If you can state your case clearly and show the thinking behind it, then you have a better chance of influencing decision-makers.
  4. Have you really explained the issue? I am often surprised about the complete lack of understanding that non-PR people have about what we do. Stuff that seems obvious to me is a revelation to the client – even savvy and experienced business people. Assume that people have no idea about what you do or how you do it, and take them right through your process of thinking and execution.
  5. What does your gut say? I’ll always wonder what went on in the James Hardie offices the day its leaders approved a media release which was, in effect, a big ol’ lie. It said the company had enough money to pay out asbestos victims, when it didn’t. And a lot of smart, experienced people approved the media release that got them dragged over the coals in court. Didn’t alarm bells go off for any of them? Did anyone think, ‘hmm, this doesn’t sound right’. If they did, they kept it to themselves. The result was a lot of successful people ended up with their reputation in tatters. It’s a cautionary tale: if someone asks you to do something that doesn’t feel right in your gut, don’t do it.

And if it all seems too hard, I can recommend a good dose of country music to help you clear your head.

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