Why you need a PR mindset in business
Recently a Soho bar proudly put up a new framed picture.
The picture represented change: it took an old image of 1930s drinkers in the same bar and updated it, replacing said drinkers with new faces - the three previous owners of the bar.
A nod to the previous owners' achievements as the bar looks to its future. So far, so innocent.
But the reason this story hit the media was that the historical picture in question originally showed three black drinkers who had been edited out and replaced by three white bar owners.
It didn't take long for someone to point out the problem on social media, and mere hours later 'Pub whitewashes Soho race history' goes the Evening Standard headline.
To me this is a prime example of why anyone in business needs a PR mindset. It appears that this incident was fuelled more by naiveté than racism; but, if they'd had a PR mindset, it is unlikely to ever have happened.
Why? Because a PR mindset is always looking for how business activity could be misinterpreted or criticised. In today's always-on, social media landscape, it only takes one or two negative comments on Twitter before something seemingly innocuous becomes a lead story on Mail Online.
We see it time and again - from restaurants attracting national media attention for an ill-advised comment on TripAdvisor to the customer services manager who was filmed badly handling a customer complaint.
Want to avoid a seemingly innocent business move ending up as a bad story for your business? Here's some of the ways thinking like a PR will help protect your business:
1. Never stop worrying: it's a truth universally acknowledged that PRs worry, and worry a lot. Far from being a negative, this approach is an asset which enables us to look ahead to all the possible scenarios which could play out and switch course or prepare for the storm appropriately.
2. Think contextually: planning a PR stunt involving men in masks waving flags and 'attacking' an event in today's terrorism-aware climate was never going to be the best idea. I've worked on a number of projects in my career that have been shelved or postponed at the 11th hour due to breaking news which could have made them appear insensitive. Understanding the wider news context and being prepared to change tack accordingly is critical.
3. Recognising what makes a good story: for every lovely 'isn't my product / event / insightful viewpoint brilliant' idea there's nearly always a flip side. Being able to spot how a positive brand story could be flipped to deliver a great news story for the journalist and a total headache for you, comes from the habit of consuming media 24/7.
4. It's the little things that matter: from the way you word your tweets, to what your spokesperson does when they are off camera, to the events you organise... it's all in the detail. With a PR mindset, you will learn to take a step back and check the detail before pushing ahead. The smallest mistakes in tone, visuals or wording, have the potential to do great damage to your brand reputation.
For more on why a PR mindset is critical in business, read my thoughts on why PR should be at the heart of your marketing plans.