Public Relations

PR Lessons on How Not to Handle a Pandemic

This is not a political blogpost, but a one written out of purely professional interest! As a PR Professional I have currently seen a slew of negative press, social media memes and general frustration with the way India’s monster second wave is being handled. It’s been a lesson for any well honed PR Person on ‘How Not to Handle Public Perception’. So here are my two bits on how this reputation management disaster can be addressed.

  1. Communicate: People want to know that the people in charge are doing something! In a time of panic, people want to know that there is someone at the helm of affairs, taking change and accountability. They want reassurance and they want to support. It’s important for anyone handling a crisis as grave as this to communicate the smallest of actions being taken to address the concern. If a daily press briefing is not possible, use weekly updates, send out daily bulletins through a press office. Let people know someone is working!
  2. Acknowledge a mistake: The buck always stops at the top. It’s just a part of holding a public office. The brickbats and bouquets both will come your way. If lives have been lost, if people have been deceived, if they have had to fight it out for medical essentials then they are angry and upset. Acknowledge a mistake if it has been made and assure people of your support. The beauty of human nature is, it forgives as quickly as it gets upset.
  3. Don’t make this about you: Much as you would want to use this time as propaganda to sell your company, brand, or organisation, it’s just not the time to make it about you. Keep press briefings factual and devoid of platitudes, emotions, and grand statements. This is the time to show humility, vigilance, and alacrity. It will anyway lead to greater brand amplification for you without even trying.
  4. Don’t address negative press with threatening statements: Accept negative press with grace and equanimity. They are also doing their job and may have a point of view. Acknowledge it and address each concern raised with a measured counterpoint. Asking them to not report, have an opinion, or attacking them will only make you come across as a cry baby.
  5. Don’t be Tone-Deaf: A national crisis of this magnitude captures the imagination of the general public. In most cases, they can think of nothing else. At such times announcing new projects, initiatives that have nothing to do with the pandemic can come across as tone-deaf in terms of your sensitivity to the situation. Make an attempt to defer these projects and announcements to a more opportune time.

Across the world, politics is not won on hard facts, but emotions. In this case, the business of public perception is very very important. It can cost you votes, reputation, and clout in the International circuit.  Work hard on it. Of course, if you genuinely don’t work while in public office, no amount of PR effort can also help. Donald Trump is one case in point. Am sure, the future will show us many more!

Sonali Sokhal

Co-Founder, PRPOI

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