Reactive Public Relations: Yay or Nay?

As a fresh OU graduate and strategic communications pro, I value the importance and relevance of proactive public relations tactics and strategies.  It’s far easier to maintain a positive reputation, than respond to negative influencers.  The classic adage, “the conversation is going to happen with or without you- why not join it?” comes to mind.  However, what happens when your organization’s image falls out of your hands?  As a public relations practitioner, what kind of crisis communication or brand control are you enforcing for online content?  Or, are you enforcing any plan?

This concept really caught my attention after I spotted this blog post, via Twitter.  Check out the blog for yourself, http://ericceledonia.blogspot.com/2009/02/addy-awards-akron-oh.html, which criticizes an Akron advertising agency’s entirely unprofessional and rude behavior at the 2009 Addy Awards.  The post calls the agency out on its inappropriate conduct, and several other Addy attendees chime in on the blog with similar comments.  Apparently the firm’s excessive antics were “enough to make an NFL wide receiver blush.”  I’m not pointing the finger at this agency (looks like they have already gained enough “badvocates”).  I’m posing an important question we should, as communication professionals, ask ourselves after reading this post.  What would you do if your organization was in this, or a similar, situation- practice reactive PR or not?

Get in the Conversation: Does your company have people who monitor what is voiced on the Internet about your employees, your services, etc?  If you don’t, it is probably because you have (unfortunately) not identified the immense value behind it.  However, if positive feedback is being shared on blogs/sites about your company, wouldn’t that be something you want your clients, and especially potential clients, to know about?  Unpaid and unbiased positive publicity- not something I would want to be overlooking.  This “free PR” could be passed along via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, YouTube, etc.  Find it, and promote yourself.  If YOU aren’t utilizing this, who will?

Is No Response a Legit Response? So, in the Akron firm example, I was quick to begin brainstorming ways I would react to the blogger’s post and implement damage control, if I were a representative for the agency being attacked.  I brought the issue up to a pal who works for a large PR agency in Chicago.  He argued a valid point- who cares?  Neither of us had ever heard of this agency before, and probably most of the people in the Columbus area hadn’t either.  Plus, how many people are actually going to read this ONE negative blog post? 

Undeniable Power of Buzz: I just couldn’t buy it; as a strong social media advocate, always pushing the power of Tweeters, bloggers, etc., I pushed back at my friend’s suggestion.  I emphasized the possibility that one small agency’s bad behavior and one blogger’s opinion can spread like wildfire.  Consider how I initially heard of this post: an influential Columbus Tweeter tweets a link to the blog, I read the post, I retweet it (noticing that plenty of other retweets were happening, too), and I put the link up as my Google chat status.  Within moments, a public relations pro in Cincinnati is IMing me about it.  She then passed the link on to one of her co-workers, and the word continues to spread.  We can see the immediate power of this buzz, so why would you take the risk of letting this information spread instantaneously, without your company’s defense right behind it? 

Bridges, People!  What ever happened to trying not to burn bridges?  I find it hard to believe this blogger’s negative opinion is simply not worth reacting to.  As technology-dependent workers, do we value these individual relationships anymore?  Are we too busy making new connections everyday to care about losing an old contact or two?

So, if your company finds itself under an unflattering social media spotlight, think about how you will you react.  Will you be quick to defend your business right there on the blog post, or would you sit back and let the viral buzz take its toll?   Will your company’s image be corrupted regardless of your defense, or could you regain credibility after such inappropriate behavior?  Questions to consider…hope this never happens to you.

And I hope your organization would never treat a lovely centerpiece cake like a recycling bin while participating in a well-known, professional awards ceremony.

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