A PR crisis requires waiting and knowing the facts

The Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX in which 19 fourth-grade students were massacred, is a textbook example of how not to properly handle a PR crisis.

Two days after the tragedy, law enforcement were in front of cameras fielding questions and attempting to explain what happened. The only problem is their story kept changing.

This event can hardly be called a PR crisis. It is beyond imagination that 11-year-old kids would be brutally killed. But the intense media attention pressured law enforcement to feed their desires for information. They were pressured by the media for an explanation and answers as to what happened.

The parents deserve nothing less.

Instead of law enforcement — which has the hardest and most dangerous jobs in the world — were pressured if not bullied into meeting with media to explain the details and timeline of what they did. They first said the gunman was met outside the school by a School Resource Officer who was shot. Then, officials said that never happened. Then, they said they could not find the key to the classroom. That explanation went away. At this writing the story now is police locked the gunman in the classroom with the children and waited an hour for SWAT.

There is no doubt other explanations will emerge.

It takes a special kind of person to run toward gunfire to save lives. Not many people can do it, and nobody should unless they are trained and have extraordinary bravery.

But if law enforcement is making up the series of events day by day without knowing what really happened, they are doing a disservice not only to themselves, but the millions of other parents who rely on schools to keep their children safe.

It is easy to second guess law enforcement. We weren’t there. We were not navigating the chaos. But law enforcement only makes matters worse by trying to satisfy the media without knowing all the facts.

How your nonprofit can stand out

Nonprofit organizations typically hire public relations and marketing firms to help them stand out. It is obvious why a corporation with the objective of profit wants to become better known, but why does a nonprofit with a mission need to stand out?

The answer is simple. Nonprofits compete in the marketplace just like corporations do.

They compete for attention. And they compete for dollars.

So how does a nonprofit present itself as unique when there are literally thousands of other causes in the marketplace like Los Angeles and dozens that do the same thing?

Having represented upwards of 100 nonprofits, we can say with certainty that it is not simple. But it can be done with a solid PR / marketing plan and consistency.

When creating your PR messaging, it is not enough to simply say on your website what you do. Too many nonprofits do the same thing, and most do them well. What you need to do is engage your audience. You need to have a conversation with them about what you do. In addition to outlining your services, the nonprofits that stand out also speak to their audiences via social media and events about what is currently happening in the space you are operating.

The world changes rapidly. We all know this. If your organization is not communicating with your audiences about issues relevant today, then you risk being just another organization that does the same thing your competitors do.

It takes work. It takes time. But it will yield results.

Now is not the time to score political points

With the horrific mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, TX where 19 fourth-grade students and two teachers were murdered, one would think politicians would take a breath.

But for some, political power is all that is important. We are in the midst of a primary season leading to the Nov. 2022 mid-term elections. Mere hours after the shooting, we saw politicians pushing their political agendas on gun control and related matters. Today, the day after, we see would-be politicians running social media ads touting how they will stop school shootings if people would only vote for them.

Yes, a big part of public relations strategy is to be relevant. PR people always try to tie their clients or causes to current events. But to use such an incredibly horrible tragedy to further a campaign message to “vote for me I can fix this,” is nauseating.

Now is not the time to sell products or sell candidates. Now is the time for reflection, sympathy and empathy.

If there are any political strategies we would advise a client right now, it would be to stay quiet and support the grieving families in any way possible.

Not see it as an opportunity to get elected or re-elected.

Kids were murdered. Your political careers can wait.

Excite your readers with words, not exclamation points

There is a tendency for some beginning writers to add exclamation points to the end of their sentences! Some think that if they end a sentence with a (!) that it will excite the reader and indicate what the reader just read is really important.

I disagree, especially in the public relations business.

Exclamation points need to be left in third grade. If you have something exciting to say, say it with words not punctuation. A reader doesn’t need to be signaled that what they just read is really important or exciting. It is like telling someone they need to turn on their computer before they can use it. People know.

Plus, it makes the writer look inexperienced.

So say it with words, not punctuation marks — especially not exclamation marks.

Circling Back

The PR business is built on words. And the words we use matter.

Over the past several years, we hear the same cliche words used over and over again in the media and in our personal and business communications. Here are some:

Circle Back: This means “I’ll get back to you,” which is a common way of really saying “Don’t know, let’s forget about it.”

Narrative: People describe what they say as a narrative. “The industry narrative is such and such.” How about, “Here’s the story, or here’s the reality.”

Reach Out: I hear or read someone use this term a million times a day. Aren’t they really saying “I’ll contact you?”

I could go on and on and you could as well.

In the marketing / public relations business words matter, so our advice is to speak in plain English and avoid over-used cliches.