What keeps the PR Pro Up at Night?


So what does keep the CEO up at night? And is she/he the only one not sleeping? Really? No doubt, you’ve probably read a story or been asked to consider that age-old business question before.The idea is really to know and understand the challenges of the leader. There’s certainly merit in that. And yes, an argument could be made for trumping that sentiment by considering what keeps the CUSTOMER up at night. But I thought it might be fun to consider what makes your PR person bolt up in the middle of the night.

That’s not to say PR is or should be the be all, end all. If you work in public relations, you already know it’s not about you. Everything we do is in support of someone or something else.That’s our job. We help others tell their story. I like to say we make great first lieutenants. You know the type, expertly advising confidentially and planning strategically, but nary an unnecessary peep out of them unless the situation truly warrants it – like mutiny on deck or unforeseen absence of the subject matter expert. If you’re the leader, PR’s got your back. And we don’t look for any big recognition of that.

Still, just for fun, let’s hear the PR voice on the “up all night” theme. Just as those C-suite stories are trying to give us insight into the life of top leaders in order to work with them better, let’s consider what you may or may not do when working with your PR support that results in our sleepless nights. My PR friends can just shoot me now – or chime in!

So, what keeps a PR pro up at night? Here’s my top 5. What are yours?

1. No coverage
Your boss and the boss’ boss and everyone else is expecting pick-up of that story, release or pitch and you don’t have any confirmed interviews – yet. It doesn’t matter that “editing by committee” means the words barely resemble anything you thought would work but you did what you could to rescue and save the day.

Advice to PR: If you were smart enough to make a last-ditch save when presenting to your media contact, or had enough finesse to lower internal expectations, get some shut eye. Miracles have been known to happen and relationships count. If this is happening day-of, better start dreaming about a new way to tell the story – pronto!

Not in PR: You hired for their expertise. Listen.

2. Preempted coverage
Darn that news cycle but it really is all about timing and relevance. A big national story that rocks all the outlets or even a local disaster that prevents a TV crew from attending your event will likely knock your story off the play list. This is the “no fault” zone. Don’t lose sleep worrying about what might happen.

Advice to PR: Okay, you may have picked the date. We usually do get asked when is the best time to issue – unless it’s a major company-wide item like a product launch or acquisition that may be dictated. Hopefully you did your homework about other events and even competitive or national announcements expected on your date. But let’s be honest. You probably won’t know when something that big is going to happen. Now’s the time to think fast about how to tie to that national trend. If you can’t, make a call about going to plan B – like how to still get the story out without the event. Then go to bed. You will need your rest for tomorrow!

Not in PR: Some things really are beyond control. Embrace plan B.

3. Little coverage.
It happens. We may not bat 100% every time or live up to that oft-felt expectation of outdoing the amount of coverage received prior. Still, a story should get more than one piece of coverage (unless only targeted to one, of course). IMHO this most often occurs when the PR pro gets a reputation for providing “junk” stories or spokespersons. Either the story doesn’t work for the audience or the pitch is bad or you are hitting them up too often (likely with junk) or the media contact is simply tired of interviewing spokespersons that can’t tell a differentiating story.

Advice to PR: Your relationships are bad. Maybe that’s an internal issue that you can’t get approval and traction for a message that will actually work or your spokespersons need training – or it could be that your external relationships need work. You have likely become the PR pest, probably because of the internal pressure you’re under, but nonetheless, you or your story just aren’t hitting the mark. Stay up all night! Regardless of where any fault may lay, it is your job to figure out how to research and rock a pitch.

Not in PR: Don’t force non-newsworthy news and marketing speak. The reputation of your PR person becomes your company reputation. Cry wolf and the pack won’t cover.

4. Early coverage
This is another “what if” dream PR will have all night or for several nights before a big announcement. What happens if someone leaks the news early? It’s enough to send PR into a frenzy, despite the 99.999% chance that it was someone outside of PR. Or perhaps you actually have an embargo on an announcement and someone didn’t honor it. In that case, call them on it. Most outlets will take down early news if they were in error. But first make sure it wasn’t your mistake of assuming they would honor an embargo (fewer are these days).

Advice to PR: Try candles and a hot bath or meditation. Whatever outside method you can use to get those thoughts out of your head. You can’t control it. BUT, you can plan for it. Build a what-if scenario plan into your strategy upfront, especially if this is a major announcement. Then relax because you have done all you can do.

Not in PR: Leaks do happen when you work with humans. Remember that. PR will do all humanly possible to prevent it.

5. OMG, coverage!

Sometimes you just don’t want it. Could be any number of reasons, including SEC regulations on preemptive disclosures. Of course, I’m not talking about hiding or anything immoral, inappropriate or illegal – in that case stop dreaming and start reporting! This is another what-if scenario that PR will worry about. It can also be our reaction when a spokesperson is screaming about being taken “out of context.” That is OMG coverage, too.

Advice to PR: This one is truly all about planning. If you haven’t done that, you will lose sleep. So prepare and get your zzz’s. This may be very similar to the early coverage scenario (hence a leak), but it could also be that you are getting coverage on something unanticipated that went public. Either way, you will sleep better if you play out the scenario possibilities in your strategic planning and not in your nightmares. For the case of an “out-of-context” screamer, keep calm and let them spout. IMHO, most likely the reporter got it right. Tomorrow, you can start planning more media training sessions. Tonight, sweet dreams.

Not in PR: Remember there are three sides to every media story. Yours. The reporter’s. And the PR expert. Learn to understand all three. You’ll sleep better, too.

Night, night.



About csrtrans

President/Senior Consultant & Global PR professional. CSR Transformations, Ltd. offers a consortium of independent consultants from around the world providing contracted expertise in Communications, Public Relations and Corporate Social Responsibility.
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