The question came to mind a few times over the years when I have worked on some seemingly inconsequential PR matters where some of the parties involved may have considered my attention to detail a pain in the … ahem … a bit much.
To be sure, if you don’t work on PR matters every day you may come away thinking that PR pros can have a tendency to be control freaks. After all, it’s just public relations, right?
In defense of my colleagues (and myself) I think some ‘splainin is needed. If you think your PR person may be over-thinking or over-reacting to something that may never even happen, it may be worth a closer look at what we all recognize as PR mistakes.
PR mistakes often make front page news, or the wrong kind of news, or sometimes no news at all. Sometimes PR mistakes lead to crises of leadership, reduced stock prices, employee defections, general embarrassments, or grandstanding opportunities for competitors and critics. And that just scratches the surface. To prevent such PR disasters, you probably want your PR person to be extremely mindful of what could go wrong, and what is required to go right.
One of the first things we learn in public relations is that most everything is beyond our control. We can’t tell the media what to write or how to report. We can’t tell the public how to react to what our organization says or what we say. We can’t tell people to believe us and just expect it to happen. And no matter what we do to increase sales, calm the public, or clarify an issue, there are simply no guarantees of the outcome.
So, it is the job of the PR professional to try to control what can be controlled on the theory that the more variables we do control, the less the chance that things will get out of control. That increases the chance that the outcome will go as well as can be expected.
This takes an unbelievable amount of attention to detail, planning, planning and more planning. In the process, we think of what can go wrong and plan for that. We think of what can go right, and plan for that. We think of what can go wrong even when things go right. In other words, we plan for when everything goes exactly according to plan, but somehow the end result is misunderstood.
This involves a lot of scenario analysis. A lot of “what ifs.” And a lot of “then whats.”
All of this gets even more intense in crisis and issues management.
I’ve had the good fortune to have seen a lot of PR efforts go right, and as a result I have become a big believer that in PR it’s not a bad thing to be considered a little excessive when it comes to control issues.
With all of that in mind, here are a few misconceptions about PR “control freaks” that may need to be clarified.
PR people think they can control everything – Not true. It’s more the opposite. We know better than anyone we cannot control everything, so we try to control what we can.
PR people don’t like it when things don’t go their way – Yes, we don’t like it when things don’t go right, and we recognize that some of the biggest mistakes are made in the planning process, when certain possibilities aren’t taken seriously enough. It’s more about taking every detail seriously long before it becomes a factor in the outcome.
You can’t let go – Not true. The fact is, most good PR people know that the time to let go is when you’ve thought of everything you could think of and done everything you could do. It’s at that point where it comes time to let go and let events happen. Most good PR people know then that even if things don’t work out perfectly, the thing to do then is to learn and move forward.