Should You Do PR During a Crisis Not of Your Making?

“Ambulance chaser” is about the worst thing you can call a lawyer.

Same goes for PR. No one should exploit tragedy.

But what if you have advice that can help people? What if you actually have a solution that would address big problems?

When is it okay to reach out to reporters? When will you know you’re adding to solutions, not just creating noise? How do you do it without being an ambulance chaser?

No one knows. Not for sure, at least.

There is a path forward, however, if you apply some common sense:

Step 1: What Timely and Relevant Thing Are You Expert About (Like, Really Expert, Not Sort-of Expert)?

Ask yourself:

“What do I know that would genuinely help people or companies deal with this crisis?”

Here’s a way to gauge your expertise: Would you be confident sharing it in front of thousands of anxious and stressed-out people, or folks who are experts themselves?

If your answer is yes, what you know is probably worth sharing. And in fact, I’d argue it’s your obligation to get it out there.

Just remember: in this stage, when the crisis is still very new, this is about sharing your advice, not promoting a company or product.

Step 2: After “What Do We Do Now?”, Offer a Way Forward

Right now, with COVID-19, reporters are focused on telling people what to do if they're sick, what to do if they think they may be sick, and what to do if they don’t want to get sick.

For business readers, reporters are focused on things like how to protect employees, how to move thousands of them to WFH in one day with no preparation, and how to keep operations running and cash flowing.

In short, media outlets are giving people and businesses advice for the moment they are living in right now.

But eventually, the very real panic of the moment will pass, and people will look for advice about the right path forward (as of Friday, March 13, I would argue we’re not there yet, especially for giving advice to individuals; advice to companies, however…).

And when people are ready to learn about the future, you should be ready, too.

As with the Step One, lead with advice. But now your advice can point to – or be suggestive of – your product or service. This is not exploitative because you’re not using fear to sell. You’re waiting until the reader can be thoughtful and deliberate.

Months don’t have to pass between Steps One and Two. Just know that at some point, sometimes in only days, reporters and editors will start to look for “what’s next.”

When you sense the first cycle is dying down (or you think it should be dying down), you can feel comfortable reaching out to a reporter or editor with something like this:

“To be honest, I don’t know that right now is the perfect time to share this, but at some point I expect you will want to write about how (people / companies / industries) can better deal with future crises like what we’re experiencing, and I wanted to share what we’ve learned.”

Step 3: Tell Your Own Story with Humility

The crisis has passed.

The “how do we deal with it today?” stories are long over, and the “how do we deal with it in the future?” stories are working their way through the cycle.

What’s next?

The narratives. The case studies. The deeper dives into a company’s own experiences with its teams, its clients, its partners, its investors, etc.

How’d you make it through the crisis?

What went well?

Where did you stumble?

What did you learn?

What would you do differently?

What could someone else learn from your experiences, both good and bad?

To be ready for this third step, keep a record of your thoughts and experiences, and ask other key members of your team to do the same. This will give you an accurate picture of what happened without having to rely on the shakiness of memory about emotional and stressful events.

Good Luck and Good Health

Whether you know it or not, your advice has influenced someone’s life. It might’ve been yesterday or years ago. It could’ve been over a beer, a coffee, a lunch, or a phone call. 

What made your advice so helpful was that it was your expertise – delivered at the right time and in the right voice – that made it stick.

The same applies here: if you have something meaningful to share, and if you do it at the right time in the right way, you can make a difference.

Best of luck navigating the COVID-19 era. I hope you, your teams, and your families stay healthy, and that you come out of this mess better for all the struggle.

Hit me up with anything you need at all.