The best defense is good offense? 10 Reputation & PR Crisis Management Kung-Fu tactics

22 Feb
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By Olga Kostrova, speaker and COO/Managing Partner of SocialAgenda Media

PR crisis management kung fu tactics

If you are starting your PR adventure and ready to go “public” with your new project besides polishing your shoes to appear at your best in mass media, I invite you to be awake to the fact that if you really intend to make a difference with your ideas, disrupt inefficiency of existing processes, undermine the status quo in any way, you have to be ready for a PR crisis. One day, if you build it they will come… after you.

But the good news, as any crisis, PR crisis is a temporary event. As any crisis it has a spiral character and can take you to the new level. Don’t underestimate the value of “bad” publicity either.

I bet, no matter how hard you try you won’t find a single public figure that at least once was not criticized by media. In the age when social media becomes a dominant information depository any opportunity for criticism will be taken to the edge. Don’t build an illusion about the past covered by rose petals. Once in a while you will be bitten, and if you smart enough and have conviction about what you are doing, and why you, will not let it to disarm you, put down, get off-center away from your efficiency. Actually, I truly hope it will do just opposite for you – root you deeper in your conviction, so you are reminded why you started it in the first place. From my experience working with many business leaders – it’s never just money. You wanted to improve something that was half broken, or find ways to accomplish things faster, easier, at lower cost, with better service, better product, etc. Never forget it.

Now, for the most sensitive souls it all is easier said than done. When shit hits the fan, do you hide and ignore the “gossip” thread, do you go and fight (and lose the battle?) or you enter the conversation with integrity yet courage, and from the place of truth, leaving participants with questions to their answers (pun intended)?

Here is what I suggest you to consider as you deal with media if criticized:

  1. Be bold in your responses. Don’t try to smooth edges, don’t try to appear politically correct. Don’t try to please everybody – you will fail in that endeavor miserably, anyways.
  2. Be honest.
  3. Be their mommy or a daddy.  :-) Have you ever gotten your pants down and got whipped for being a trouble? Well, let’s put it this way, this concept is not foreign to those from Eastern countries – children get their dose for misbehaving. So, it will not hurt you to take pants off the reporter that just poured his judgment and ignorance all over you in public. Now, you get him naked in public. No, I don’t mean you should use your sophisticated vocabulary and call him names. As much as this is considered to be one of the common defense tactics, I personally don’t recommend it. Stay in your integrity. Just reveal what you see to be really happening, what is really underneath of the criticism.
  4. Be their accountability call. Reveal hypocrisy underneath of the judgment – if you look deeply into the matter you most probably find it. It is most common for social commenters – they will hear the noise and join the choir. ‎”Hypocrisy is the essence of snobbery, but all snobbery is about the problem of belonging”, Alexander Theroux once said… That’s how people confirm their belonging – they conform – conform to ideas, opinions, judgments. We, humans, are never objective, always subjective, even if we claim objectivity. Ah, virgin naivety. In the world of subjective point of views objectivity simply does not exist. Even so-called facts hide under the veil of subjective angles of representation. A judgment is always a projection onto other; it is voiced by that part of ourselves that we condemn. With that said…
  5. Be their therapist. See, when people criticize you, it’s not really about you. If you look at the deepest level of any drama, it’s always about them. I have been coaching / counseling people out of their emotional suffering for years now (one of my other passions in life, besides my husband Jan, arts, writing – mainly in foreign languages, as you can see from grammar in this article that I purposefully left unedited lol). It’s the manifestation of my desire to see each human awakened from the world of conflict. And the conflict starts from within. Without is only the expression of the within; it’s a symptom, not the cause. See, when someone criticizes you, he or she is driven by many conflicting motives. A journalist that has published some poopoo about you (and especially angry commenter on a social platform) will most of the time make it look like it is his sense of justice and fairness that motivated him to post the junk. And the amusing part – he might really believe it to be so. But… good try. Often the desire for drama in media is driven by monetary reasons. The formula is old as the oldest joke – you write a piece that is controversial enough to stir the waters, have angry masses use it as an outlet for their rage against any imaginary “enemy” that is in the proximity, take it viral to show their righteousness in the matter, and here we are – your traffic went through the roof, and you are placed on a pedestal of a “thought leader” or an “expert” at the expense of another. I would like to say “Children, don’t try it at home”, but I know they always will.  :-) Then underneath of this self-serving motive, there is a deeper one. We criticize someone’s action publically to elevate our own self-worth. Always. “Bigotry and judgment are the height of insecurity.”  Wouldn’t you agree with Jasmine Guy? If you want to help someone you just do it gently and in private. As soon as “justice” is taken public, it’s because it’s driven by one or few of self-serving motives. It might be as simple as unrecognized envy of your success. “A negative judgment gives you more satisfaction than praise, provided it smacks of jealousy”, said Jean Baudrillard. Whatever your offender’s motives are it’s your job as a communication professional or a leader to uncover them, and make it clear for everybody in the thread. Keep people accountable for their words and actions as much as they want you to be accountable for yours.
  6. Be accountable, indeed. If you slipped and did something that after a second thought looks as you shouldn’t have done, admit it and share ways you are planning to fix it.

Let me share a few more thoughts on human motives that make conflicts possible.

  1. Human mind is fragmented. The truth therefore is always compartmentalized. The mind operates in the realm of opposites. I like you, I dislike you. I agree, I disagree. It’s good, it’s bad.  If it’s not white, it’s black. And unless you wake up from the duality, you are always in conflict. Well, first of all – with yourself, and then you take it onto others.
  2. People rarely understand their own motivations. They almost always use their (temporary!) ideologies as cover-ups for their own confusions.
  3. People will make someone wrong to FEEL right. Note, not to be right. Those who strive for complete self-awareness (and I said strive since it’s a process) finally discover that most of the time they feel inadequate, unworthy, incompetent – the tape goes on and on, unless the duality is transcended. But until then how to make the voice in their heads stop? Most often they do it by hearing themselves in loud talking garbage at others. And then we feel good, don’t we? Well, at least better. Because now out of two of us I am not the one who feels worse or more wrong or less knowledgeable. Ah, those ugly tricks of the mind.

I could add quite a few items to the list above, but let me save your precious time and stop here… for now  😉

Did I say it will be 10 tips? Well, I bet you will dig quite a few more somewhere on this page.

So, as it concerns PR crisis management, treat it as an opportunity to have a transparent conversation with media and its audiences.

I suggest you not offend the offender, instead I suggest you to make the situation very clear, uncover what’s hidden behind every word and every action. And yes, most probably he / she will feel offended – people rarely like looking into a mirror, especially in public restrooms. But who cares?

“Honesty” has its price, as anything else in this monetary world.

I don’t want to give you an illusion that you will persuade everybody who read the coverage. Some readers will still ride on the wave of the urge for conflict and will never hear you. So be it. Yet some, those that are not emotionally triggered but are driven by common sense, will actually get your point. They might not agree with you at first, but the seed of doubt will be planted.

And never forget, there is always 2 sides of the coin. Everybody who promises to “reveal the truth” is inviting you into his lala land – he is always lying, as the truth presented by him is always partial. Everything is another side of something else. That’s the nature of truth.

If you can define your position, you are a liar or an ignorant fool. That’s pretty much summarizes my post. Hey, apparently I didn’t even need to write it. It’s all fits in a single statement :-) – THE TRUTH IS NEVER PARTIAL. Don’t believe in bullshit, don’t make it possible for opinionated attention seekers to feed their audiences with bullshit. Don’t eat it, don’t let others be fed by it – simple no-bullshit recipe for your PR campaign LaUNCH :-).

And if I take any stand in this article, I am most probably lying somewhere here as well. :-)  Well, then make your own judgment whether my version of truth (or a lie) can serve you.  :-)

But there is one thing I am quite certain about. What I write shall be heard as a message beyond PR Kung-Fu.

As Ellen DeGeneres said: The world is full of a lot of fear, a lot of negativity, and a lot of judgment. I just think people need to start shifting into joy and happiness. As corny as it sounds, we need to make a shift”.  … And wouldn’t mass media and social net be places to start?


My best wishes, Lovers.

Be whole, don’t be partial.

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2 Responses to The best defense is good offense? 10 Reputation & PR Crisis Management Kung-Fu tactics


Hawaiian Crisis Response and the End of Journalism as We Know It | Jan Hutchins

February 22nd, 2013 at 2:06 am

[…] Recently a digital discussion of our business model at our company, SocialAgenda Media, offered an opportunity to practice these lessons.  See my partner/wife’s blog about it here. […]


Vaclav Kirsner

February 22nd, 2013 at 5:55 pm

Thank you! I’ve saved these encouraging (inspiring) keywords or phrases from your piece: Be bold in your responses.Be honest. Stay in your integrity. Just reveal what you see to be really happening, what is really underneath the criticism. This in relation to other aspects of entrepreneurship, not just PR…
And yes, “it’s never just money” applies, at least in the case of your truly.
Vaclav Kirsner

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