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What to do in a PR Crisis

What to do in a PR Crisis

Despite the best of intentions, the best of behaviour, and the best of staff, things can go wrong. And they can go wrong spectacularly. And when they do it can feel like you're in the middle of a hurricane, being buffeted by criticism and negativity and that it will never ever end and things will always be bad.

Take a breath. Things will nearly always be ok.

What does a public relations agency do?

What does a public relations agency do?

David Jones is in Wellington now. It’s tremendously exciting for me because I live there and I love the new and shiny.  I love having the chance to fondle the $2,000 Louboutins and gasp at the Alexander McQueen scarves. Today though, I had an appointment at Benefit Brow Bar, inside David Jones, to tame my unruly brows.

My “brow expert” ran through the usual questions and small talk that she’s probably trained to do.  We talked about the weather a bit, a lot about how she gets any work done being so close to the new and shiny things but then she asked me what I did for a job.  “PR”, I said.  “What’s that?” she asks. 

While she’s waxing a fierce looking arch into my brow shape, I’m considering response.  This is small talk, after all.  She probably doesn’t care what PR really is.  So, should I tell her what everyone else knows it to be? We push press releases out to unsuspecting journalists, ticking a completed box for our clients and hoping that a journalist will pick up the story, or do I tell her the truth ? What we actually do. 

I started out in PR about 16 years ago as a junior.  My job was to clip the news clippings in the paper about our clients, stick them to a sheet of A4 and fax them through each day and pop the original in the mail to the CEO.  I also helped write press releases, I’d read them back to the seniors in the firm, I’d put together amazing press packs to accompany a story – it was a jolly good time.

Back then however, PR was seen as an expensive luxury.  Something you had to invest in.  The only thing we could measure ROI on was Advertising Value Equivalents – how much would it cost to place a story of the same size we just got as editorial in mainstream vs how much our fee was.

And sure, it felt good to be able to gather up those clips as a way to prove our worth, but if I’m honest here, every PR person around in the late 90’s knew that what we were doing was nothing more than an ego stroke.  But it was a good time, right?  So we all just went about our merry way until the internet came and social media came and we all collectively said “oh no”.

Obviously, there’s been a huge amount of change in our industry.  So what does PR mean now?

Press releases we do, but only if there’s a point to it, to update a large group with the same data or information, or for posterity.  And we have the posterity option because while you think everyone cares about your “business won new business” story – they don’t.  It isn’t news, but it’s news for you so you’ll write a press release and it’ll go on your website or a hosted press release site like and it’ll be there as a record of it happening.

All the usual jobs of crisis management (when shit goes pear-shaped, we’re good at figuring out the best way to apologise and make amends when you’ve said or done something stupid that you shouldn’t have), writing speeches, op-eds, reputation management including audits, communications strategy in some cases and of course social media strategy.  But guess what else we do.

We can help a company with their revenue. 

No joke, you want leads?  Talk to a PR firm.  You want to write blogs with purpose – that’s us.  You want to understand content, SEO, domain authority, personal brand, thought leadership and how great your website is?  That’s us too.  We also take all of the things above and build one big swift plan for you – that’s called integrated comms and it’s a bucket of fun.  We also very importantly measure everything we do, so we know that the work we’ve agreed to do is achieving its goals and so we’re not flogging a dead horse.

What can PR do for a company?  It might be easier to take note of what we don’t do.

Advertising on billboards, not us.  Writing jingles for your radio commercial – nope.  Buying your media space – All. The. Nope.

One thing about PR people is we love coffee and we love to talk.  We’d like to do both of those things with you sometime soon, so give us a yell.  If you’re not sure about committing to an actual date with us, try signing up to our sporadically sent email newsletter.  It’s usually full of golden common sense and just enough nonsense to make it fun.

Photo courtesy of Niuton May

Lou Draper is Managing Partner of Draper Cormack Group and a public relations veteran. Originally from Auckland she is now living, working and breathing public relations, personal brand and content curation in Wellington City.

I've got a wonderful idea, said a Farmers creative...

I've got a wonderful idea, said a Farmers creative...

Oh boy, Farmers.  What a palaver! Sending an email to your list of thousands saying their mum has been in touch and created a wish list for Mother's Day is not your finest moment.

Here's the news coverage for context  but essentially, someone at Farmers or their agency has come up with this idea and not a single person on the campaign, in the agency, in store - no one who had a shred of knowledge, pointed out the glaringly obvious error.

Not all Mothers have connectivity with Farmers because, you know, they're dead.  Or estranged. Or simply don't subscribe to Mother's Day promotion.

Mistakes happen.  Farmers have managed it well, they've apologised, acknowledged their mistake and contributed towards how they'll do better next time, but what could they have done to prevent it happening in the first place?  And what can you do to make sure a similar thing doesn't happen to you?

Put your audience at the heart of your communications.  Create personas for your customer segments.  Get to know those personas inside and out and learn how to talk to them best.  Peer review.  Have a sign off process, 3 people deep.  Mostly though, ask yourself the questions your comms is asking of your customers.  Any hint of uneasiness and it's back to the drawing board.



“How are you?” “Oh I’m so busy”. It’s such a common refrain. Probably the most common refrain heard in elevators up and down the country. Maybe second to “How was your weekend?” “Not long enough...” followed by a soulless chuckle. But it’s really the wrong question to be focusing on.


It’s a famous question because 3-year-olds love to ask it. Why? Why? Why? Until we run out of answers and sometimes just resort to “because I said so” or the more humbling “because God”. But the thing with “why” is it seems we forget to ask it when we’re older.

Why are you busy? Why are you doing what you are doing? What is the outcome you’re trying to achieve? We all just plough on without actually thinking about why we’re ploughing. And yet it’s the most important question to ask, because if we ask it we might find that what we’re doing isn’t the right thing at all. And we could be better spent doing other things.

People don’t really care about process. They care about outcomes. And they especially care about those outcomes if they relate directly to them. So if you’re in business, don’t talk about what your business will do for a customer, talk about how your actions will help that customer. It’s all about the why. Why do you do what you do? Keep asking why until you can no longer ask. And at this point you have your reason.

I work in PR and communications. Why? Because I like to help people tell their stories. Why? So that they present themselves in the best way possible and help them in whatever industry they work.

That was a quick example, but in a chain of just two “whys” we got from what I do for a job to how it can help you.

Another example is from when I was working in parliament. The Green Party has a policy to clean up New Zealand’s rivers. Which is a well-meaning and nice-sounding policy but it doesn’t really connect with anyone on an emotional level. What’s in it for them? So why is that the Green Party policy? Well it’s the policy so that the rivers are clean. Why should they be clean? So that we can swim in them again. Ah so your policy – cleaning rivers – will have the outcome of allowing me to swim in the rivers. I understand this now and I can connect with it. So instead of talking about a clean rivers policy, we used to talk about “making our rivers clean so your kids can swim in them again like you did when you were a child”. It’s a shift away from the tool – cleaning rivers – to the outcome – you can now swim in them again. And this linguistic shift connects far better when you’re trying to convince someone of something.

So the next time you’re doing something at work, ask why you’re doing it, and keep going. And if you can’t find an answer then maybe re-think what you’re doing. Why? Because it’ll be a better outcome for you if you know the reason.

Image courtesy of Ksayer