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Courage: An Overlooked Value in PR

Author: Curtis Sparrer
October 13, 2021

Courage comes up often during my work, taking me back to philosophy classes at the University of Texas. I learned that Greek ideas of courage were built on the bravery of citizen-soldiers, as well as a willingness to stand against a common enemy. I also learned that the Socratic definition of courage is one of “wise endurance” against the odds and the notion of outlasting one’s enemies.

While it might be a bit of a stretch, I believe PR pros practice Socratic courage every day. PR is a tough job, and it can sometimes be a battle, whether with the media or clients.

A key example is press release distribution. “Embargoing” means that PR pros give information to journalists before news drops, giving reporters an opportunity to prepare their stories. However, in the news business, journalists are always seeking scoops. As a result, we’re regularly pushed by individual reporters to provide news to them before the competition or even allow them to “pre-run” a release.

The real risk in denying reporters such an advance is that they might bury the story or not cover it at all. In the end, it is pretty unlikely that the story won’t get covered, particularly if your company or client is on the reporter’s beat. But courage is required when it comes to enduring the gamesmanship required in this scenario. Playing “chicken” can put coverage at risk, and seasoned PR pros are used to letting the cards fall where they may – but doing so remains a nail-biter that requires a strong constitution.

For this reason, we ensure that our releases and media outreach are informative, timely and on-target, because the press is more likely to cover you and honor embargoes if the news is compelling. Specific benefits can also be provided to journalists who play fair. Examples include offering exclusive interviews or special assets, like infographics, so that they can differentiate their stories.

Client relations also requires courage. Uncomfortable conversations with executives can be commonplace, because their sense of perspective is greatly impacted by their personal experiences. Often surrounded by supportive VCs and enthusiastic employees, many of these leaders wrongly think that the larger world — including the media – should also fall at their feet. Being in this sort of bubble makes them think incorrectly that publications like the Journal, the NYT and the WaPo should be beating a path to their door.

Unfortunately, as PR pros, we’re often called upon to be brave and to burst that bubble. The hard reality is that the chances of major coverage at the outset are slim, and many execs simply don’t want to hear it, taking their frustrations out on the agency. After we explain our strategic PR efforts, most of these execs come around to a reasonable point of view, but real courage is required to endure being second-guessed. Similarly, sticking with a program that will eventually achieve success takes guts.

We’re regularly courageous in PR – and thanks to Socrates, we use the concept of “wise endurance” in becoming stronger and more resilient every day.