Have you ever made a difficult choice to take on a client that has done something bad? In many cases, media villains are not as bad as they seem and the heroes are not as great as they appear. On today’s PR Wars podcast, we’ll show you how to be the conscience of a company.

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A.I. generated show transcript: “We want the truth.” “We want the truth.” “We want the truth.” “I have news for everybody. Get over it.”

It’s time. Welcome to PR Wars coming at you live from Atlanta, Georgia. Now, here is your host… Chris Shigas.

Chris Shigas
Hi everyone, I’m Chris Shigas and you’re listening to PR Wars. Hey, we made it into the top 100 business podcasts on Apple podcasts. So thank you so much for listening. You can suggest future topics for the show on our PR Wars Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn accounts. And I promise you, I will answer your comments, personally.

Have you ever made a difficult choice to take on a client that has done something bad? I’ve represented celebrities and companies that were literally hated. I mean, ranked on list of the most hated people in America. And here’s what I’ve learned. The media makes heroes and villains. It’s an essential part of storytelling. But the truth is, humans are a little more gray. They are somewhere in the middle. The villains are not as bad as they seem. And the heroes are not as great as they appear.

Now, when you meet a celebrity, or a company that is vilified, here’s what you need to ask yourself: do they want to create positive change? Is the company sincere? Is the celebrity sincere? I mean, when you meet someone’s children, their mom, their dad, you get a look at a human being that may not be accurately portrayed under the glow of the spotlight.

Now there are times when you should turn down a client. When the client is fundamentally at odds with your value system. When I was with an agency, there were some clients that I wouldn’t touch. For example, personally, I wouldn’t work for a tobacco company, I just don’t want anything to do with it. It’s at odds with my value system. I wouldn’t even be able to do a good job for them if I wanted the money. If you feel a client is not serious about changing for the better. If you feel the client wants a spin doctor to twist words around to make them look good, big, red flag. I’m not a spin doctor.

But if a client wants to do the work… if they want to make an impact… if they want to make the world a better place, then I can work with that. I can help make it right. PR people are experts at making it right. And some people in a crisis. They just need a light to shine on the good path. Help them partner with the right organizations and use the power of notoriety for good.

Here’s one example that made an impact on my career. I was enjoying an evening at home when a nearby chemical storage facility exploded. I didn’t even know there was a chemical storage facility nearby. But the fire formed a toxic cloud that hovered over the entire town. We were given orders to evacuate and my wife was pregnant at the time. We had a toddler and I had to get them out of the house and into the car trying to cover our faces.

You could smell this disaster. It’s a strange chemical smell. It almost smelled like a sweet smell But you knew it was bad for you. I knew we did not want to breathe this in. The event made national news. It was strange seeing my hometown on CNN and I watched a press conference with the owners of the facility and they promise to rebuild. Ah, like hell you are made me furious. My life was disrupted, and you’re thinking about yourself.

You see, when we returned home, we didn’t even know if it was safe. Was there still poison left? Can our child play on her swingset? Can we eat from our garden? I don’t know, my life was disrupted, and everything was scary because of this company.

When I returned to work on Monday morning, my boss called me into his office. He said, Chris, I know you were impacted by this disaster. I know what you went through with you and your family. I want you to know, that the company responsible for this has called us and they want PR counsel and media training. My first reaction was like, You got to be kidding me. I was so angry. I wanted this company to burn in hell. Then my boss said something to me, that has stuck with me for my entire career. He said, Chris, before you say no, I want you to think about one thing. How else would you have access to the top leadership of this company and help them do the right thing?

I thought about it. He was right. Anger is a useless emotion. And as communicators, we have a skill, a gift, and we need to use this power for good. I met with the company leadership for a media training. And they began by saying, Well, they’ve never had their own disaster before. This company usually cleans up chemicals after the disasters of other companies. They’re usually the hero. They come in, and they hope the environment and now they are the villain.

The CEO told me that he said he would rebuild at the press conference, because he didn’t know what else to say he was on the spot in front of the camera, he thought maybe that would sound good. His intention was not to keep the community in fear. It was he did not know how to respond when he was facing the bright spotlight of the camera in front of a hostile press corps.

As Public Relations counsel, it’s your opportunity to guide a client into becoming a positive community steward, not with words, not with spin, but with action. Actionable campaigns, partnering with nonprofit community organizations, actionable decisions to assist victims, regardless of the inevitable lawsuits and court cases. Messages of empathy, followed by actionable engagement.

Can communicators be the conscience of a company? Sometimes, if you can do that, it can be the most rewarding client you have. If the client doesn’t really want to do the right thing, if they just want spin, to get out of the situation but they want to continue to do wrong, to do harm, to wallow in the muck of insincerity. That’s when you say, I can’t help you. That’s when you walk away.

The American people can be very forgiving. And the apology has to be more action than words as PR counsel, you then suggest the actions engaged in the actions and then communicate those actions. Now remember, in any campaign, you might not be able to win over the haters. You might not be able to win over activists who are protesting your company. But there may be audiences that you can move audiences in the middle. Audiences that can help you in your engagement that will join you in helping make your community better. So do me a favor. When your company has a crisis. Be the conscience. Remember to build campaigns of actions and not just words. Remember that correcting a wrong could make the world better than it was before the crisis. Now go get ’em.

PR Wars was selected as a Top PR Podcast You Must Follow in 2020 by Feedspot.

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