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A PR Guide To Surviving Thanksgiving

The Thanksgiving holiday always requires advance preparation, but this year, we’re adding expert PR and media training advice to the list. With wall-to-wall press coverage of impeachment hearings and the runup to the 2020 election, it’s a tricky time for families who disagree about political issues and candidates. Here are some follow-ups to last year’s advice from Richard based on our typical press interview tips and techniques. As in public relations, it all comes down to having a plan.

Know your audience

In this case, that means the Thanksgiving guests. If you already know you and Uncle Fred don’t see eye-to eye, you may want to be seated at the other end of the table. And just like we prepare a briefing sheet for a client before a media interview, why not do a little research on Fred’s plus-one? Some light stalking can help with advance prep, just as asking about dietary restrictions informs your pot luck recipe. If you can’t predict political and social opinions for most of the guests, stick close to one of your key stakeholders, below.

Identify key stakeholders

This is classic PR tactic. It makes sense to team with your hostess and other family members who have a large stake in a harmonious family celebration. Just like in public relations, you should advise them of strategies for avoiding disaster, and make sure they buy into your plan. Then, identify potential advocates and make sure they’re aligned as well. Bear in mind that in the event of a blowup, as operations leader, the hostess will be unavailable to serve as the crisis manager, so that role must fall to someone else. (See below)

Master “bridging” and “flagging”

So if Uncle Fred asks what you think of the latest White House episode or a certain Democratic candidate, consider the time-honored PR technique of “bridging” to another topic. “Well, I’m not sure about that, but isn’t it fascinating that we can get our news from so many different sources today? What would Walter Cronkite think?” And if someone presses you to say whom you’re planning to vote for, feel free to explain that until next November, you’ve been advised to “avoid hypotheticals.” That might get a laugh at least.

Bridging’s close cousin is “flagging.” It’s a similar technique but designed to distract or focus on a message you advocate, as in, “What I really want to know about is how many jewel-colored blazers does Elizabeth Warren actually own?” If that doesn’t work, mention how thankful you are that the third season of  ‘The Crown’ is now on Netflix.

Have a (family) crisis management plan in your back pocket

PR best practices dictate that you have a plan for the rare occasion where things go very wrong. It’s good to hope for the best, but to be ready if all hell breaks loose – a shouting match, flying drumsticks, or tears in the sweet potatoes. Our advice: designate a crisis team leader (your always-steady brother-in-law); an excuse for a cool-down (have you seen the paint job on the outside porch?); gentle message points for the opinionated cousin on keeping her views private; and an emergency cutoff of wine and cocktails if things go awry. Black coffee and a rich dessert can help here, too, as long as things aren’t yet violent.

The great distraction

If all else fails, you can distract from politics with a big announcement — you are newly engaged, pregnant, adopting, dying, or planning a major life change. Of course, it’s best if the revelation is real and true, but even if not, you can always admit to the joke after everyone has been diverted from arguing about Kellyanne Conway’s marriage.

Strategic silence

We all know those who like to stir the pot – literally and figuratively. In the world of PR, some journalists will try to press a company rep on a controversial issue, hoping to generate a good sound bite. We counsel clients that thoughtful silence can be a defensive weapon. So, if you feel cornered, this is the point where you smile, point to your mouth, and signal that you can’t possibly answer while chewing….very, very slowly.

With these tips, we hope your Thanksgiving is a personal and professional win!

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