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"PR: A Valuable Tool in Good Times and Bad"
Hilary Kaye, President, Hilary Kaye Associates, Inc.


When companies are doing well, it’s often standard procedure to let the world know. Press releases, newsletters, bylined articles, speaking engagements — these are all ways that companies deliver positive corporate news to their various audiences.

On the flip side, if a company has a downturn, its industry is in a tailspin or the overall economy is sagging, many companies "hunker down" with the attitude of waiting out the storm. They may have unexpectedly poor earnings, decreased sales revenues, sudden layoffs — all things that a company likes to keep low-key. They believe that by keeping an overall low profile, the press — and thereby their publics — will not be fully aware of their situation.

It’s certainly true that you don’t want to trumpet bad news. If you are publicly held, you only want to disclose what is mandatory based on SEC regulations (private companies, of course, have more latitude regarding disclosure of anything of a negative nature). However, it’s also true that positive stories can help reduce the impact of bad news. Many companies fail to take advantage of positive occurrences at their companies that could generate positive media coverage. Of course, if your bad news resembles anything like that occurring at Enron, all bets are off.

Maintain Relationships
Let’s take a look at some positive media opportunities that companies have even when they are in the midst of a downturn.

First, some companies have established relationships with reporters who call for comments on industry-related news. These relationships are invaluable and help the companies receive better coverage when they have news of their own to report. They also help keep the company name, and the executives’ names, in the news as industry experts. Unfortunately, we frequently see that if the company is experiencing any trouble at all, these quotable sources suddenly become unquotable. They don’t return reporters’ phone calls and they turn down interviews obtained by the PR department or agency.

This usually is the wrong tack to take. It’s a good idea to maintain relationships with reporters who have been good to the company in the past. You’ll need their support again. Be honest if they ask about the company’s difficulties, but realize that they can also help carry the company’s positive messages. Unless a company is in the midst of a genuine crisis, maintaining the impression that company executives are knowledgeable on industry matters should be done as a matter of course.

Second, if your company hasn’t established relationships with reporters — either with trade press media or business media — this may be the perfect time to do so. All of the key executives are fair game for relationships of this type. You may want to ask your PR team to facilitate these for you.

Third, adopt the attitude that positive press is good for the company. Your PR team (in-house or contracted) can be aggressive in finding situations that could lead to great trade press and sometimes even business/financial media. While care needs to be taken about revealing proprietary information, there’s a lot of room left for stories that do good, not harm.

Some stories might relate to unusual or highly successful employees; new product stories; unique manufacturing capabilities; customer application stories; humanitarian activities, etc.

Internal Channels
On a related subject, it is also important to not pull back on employee communications. If your company has had regular newsletter communication with employees — either through a printed document or email — don’t stop. Don’t let internal troubles stop this communication channel, which is critical in keeping employee morale up and business going as usual.

If the normal news you publish is not the kind of news you’d like to publish now, the newsletter editor should be directed to go looking for positive stories that would boost morale. A sudden newsletter stop is a red flag to employees and should be avoided.

OK, so what’s the bottom line? If you’ve read all the way to the bottom, you’ve learned some of the reasons why your company’s media relations program should continue through thick and thin. The next time your company appears ready to retreat into a self-imposed quiet period, think again. You may be able to generate some much-needed positive PR.

(Hilary Kaye is founder and president of Hilary Kaye Associates, Inc. (HKA), a public relations and marketing communications firm that provides customized services to emerging growth and established companies. Hilary can be reached at hilary@hkamarcom.com or (714) 426-0444.)

 

 




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