If Bad Policy is the Issue, PR isn’t the Answer

CBS Face the Nation anchor, Bob Schieffer is old-school.  I may not always agree with him, but his reports and commentaries are always well researched, balanced and thought provoking. His commentary on political public relations this past Sunday was no exception.
For young reporters and public relations professionals, Schieffer’s commentary provided a historical perspective on how the Nixon Administration essentially invented political public relations by trying to control access to elected government officials, providing staged photo ops, and delivering well-crafted soundbites.  For us more experienced professionals, Shieffer’s commentary reminds us of two points we need to consider as we provide PR and reputation management counsel to our clients:
  1. In a world of social media, access to anyone is managed at best.  As long as there are smartphones with photo-taking capabilities and instant internet access, it is not possible to completely control access; and,
  2. Perhaps most importantly, to quote Schieffer, “good PR never trumps bad policy.”  The commentary is referring to government policy, of course, but the same applies to organization or business policy.
As PR consultants, strategists and practitioners, sometimes our biggest challenge is helping clients stay out of their own way as we advise them on what, where, when and how to engage with their audiences.  We have an obligation to tell clients when they have corporate or organizational policies that are contrary to their brand, could get them into hot water; or in some cases, no policies on critical issues that could easily blow up in their face. Social media policies, still lacking or inconsistently enforced in many organizations, are one good example that comes to mind.
The best time for these discussions may be during crisis communications planning, but if you’re having trouble getting the client to prioritize their crisis communications plan, you may need to raise the topic sooner. Lacking, outdated or misdirected policies need to be addressed before a promotions campaign is implemented.  If they are not addressed, you can bet they will come back to bite you in the middle of the campaign when all of the client’s critical stakeholders are watching.