Fifteen years ago, in a tiny office with a desk, a typewriter and a telephone, public relations professional Ann Wallis-Brown and former assistant editor of the Cape Times , Evelyn John Holtzhausen, launched HWB Communications. Today, HWB is a highly regarded South African public relations and crisis communications company. Here, he unpacks six tips for handling clients’ reputation in the press, on radio and via the Internet.
Right now HWB, in keeping with their expertise in crisis communications, reputational risk management, and galvanision of communities, has been working with the Treasure Karoo Action Group (TKAG) to raise community awareness against harmful shale gas mining (fracking) in the Karoo.
1. Silence is not golden: Never say “no comment” in a crisis. If you do, rumours and speculation will fill the void, facts will be invented to harm your cause and when your head emerges from the sand you’ll struggle to recover. Always be transparent and honest. If all else fails, your integrity will remain intact.
2. Think like a journo. Study a wide variety of print, broadcast and online media to develop a deep understanding of the landscape. Never waste a journalists time with trite comments or useless information. If you do, they will treat you with disdain and never use your releases. If you understand their game they’ll open your mails knowing that you are helping them to do a better job.
3. Go digging for gems. Companies are usually so wrapped up in their own businesses that they don’t see their own story gems. Good public relations is about identifying stories to promote your client and placing these in a wider context to make them newsworthy and of benefit to your clients.
4. Get digital. Social media can reach millions of people in an instant. To make a real splash, you need reputable media and high-profile people to be the first to broadcast your message.
5. Be one step ahead. Get to know more about your client and the media you are targeting. Information is power. Wield it to the best advantage of your client. Be on the alert every day, hour and minute. New developments, plans and perspectives arising in your clients industry might gain you new opportunities for publicity. Public relations is a round-the-clock job.
6. Give up being right about everything and learn to say thank you to a journalist or broadcaster who has served you well.
Follow HWB on Twitter @hwbcomm
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