The summer heat here in the Northeast has us thinking about the instances when it’s crucial to keep your PR cool. The scenarios are numerous — it could be in the midst of a live TV segment that’s going awry, a much-anticipated launch event where things aren’t working out the way you planned, or any number of small grievances that threaten to get you and your public relations team hot under the collar. Here are some of our favorite recommendations for keeping your cool when things get tough.
Improvise. Every public relations rock star has been known to pull tricks out of her back pocket on the fly. When things aren’t going as planned, be prepared to improvise. This happened to us a few years back, when a celebrity headliner failed to appear for a launch event due to unforeseen delays. Our team members were able to quickly tap into contacts who found a suitable high-profile replacement speaker, within hours. Participants at the event, including media, were none the wiser about the last-minute substitution.
Take a moment. A classic anger management technique, taking a few moments to hold one’s tongue and take a few deep breaths, does wonders for cooling down and wising up under pressure. A CEO of a technology startup we worked with used this technique during a live panel discussion when faced with an aggressive question about a hot-button issue. We had prepared in advance, but the atmosphere was tense. Our CEO took a moment to repeat the question, confirm that she understood what was being asked, and then provided a thoughtful, fact-based response. A question that was meant to fluster ended up showing off her savvy and cool: a PR win in that moment.
Recast the issue. That leads to another tactic, reframing the question or issue. When faced with irksome or irrelevant questions from media or others, it’s okay to disagree with the premise of what’s being asked. Reporters try to be fair, but they aren’t always objective, and often a clear opinion comes through in the phrasing of a question. If the tone is way off based on your own understanding of the issue, politely state your disagreement and offer a better explanation for how the issue should be perceived.
Bury the story. This isn’t so much a way to keep cool, as a way to avoid making a heated situation worse. Unfortunately it’s not uncommon for a story or social media thread to raise some negative or accusatory matters. If the story is relatively contained, sometimes it’s best to let it “go away on its own,” as we like to say. Get very aggressive in generating positive pieces that will bury the story, pushing it farther down the pipe, and all may be soon forgotten.
Channel the energy. When appropriate, after collecting oneself and returning to a calmer state, it’s useful to focus the energy generated by an upsetting event into something productive. It could be a blog piece on the very issue that was raised. A successful business owner we worked who happened to be a Muslim of Pakistani descent was occasionally the target of false accusations driven by ignorance. He penned several blog posts on the larger issue of stereotyping, offered ways to build greater understanding and awareness, and helped not only defuse the situation, but move the conversation forward in a way that was beneficial. It also happened to burnish his reputation as a leader — always a PR plus.