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PR in times of turmoil

Author: Gabriella Perez-Silva
August 19, 2020

How to be an informed practitioner when the world around us is in chaos

At its best, PR can elevate important issues and disseminate powerful messages.

At its worst, PR practitioners have been called “story spinners,” “sensationalizers” and “opportunists.”

Our job has been put to the test the last few months, and we’ve been challenged with navigating our clients’ needs while maintaining an awareness of and empathy towards the events this year: wildfires, celebrity tragedies, a pandemic, and civil rights protests.

Amidst all of this turmoil, businesses are still at work—entering into partnerships, developing new products and raising funds—and need to publicize their announcements in order to stay afloat. Which leaves us PR folks in a difficult situation: doing our jobs while remaining sensitive to the world around us.

Curtis Sparrer, a principal at Bospar, perhaps said it best: “There is no one-size-fits-all approach, especially right now.” But there are some steps we can take to ensure that we’re empathetic and strategic in dissemination of client news.

Clarify your intention

The first question to ask yourself (and your client) is about intention. If you’re capitalizing on a tragedy purely to secure coverage for your client, I’d advise against it.

If your contribution to the conversation isn’t well-intentioned, most journalists will recognize that, and, in some cases, put you on blast and tarnish your reputation, your agency’s reputation and your client’s reputation.

Define your message

What are you saying? It’s important to offer something unique and useful to the conversation:

  1. Credible insight
  2. Relevant information
  3. Timely intelligence (such as data)

Whether your message is related to the current events or entirely separate, the language used and the details of the pitch must contain at least one of the elements above.

Timing is everything

In the days and weeks following George Floyd’s death, our agency took a close look at whether or not our outreach and clients’ announcements were essential or if we could wait. We recommended putting on hold non-urgent activities to be sensitive to the environment at the time.

Educate yourself

Finally, do your research. Make sure you understand the complexities surrounding your media outreach. Many of the tragedies we’ve seen this year are nuanced and fraught with issues that might not be obvious. Whether it’s the loss of an icon or a worldwide health crisis, understanding the surrounding issues and sensitivities is key to a thoughtful campaign.