Last week was a tough week. Hurricane Sandy walloped the East Coast, and the NY/NJ metros were hit particularly hard. If you weren’t living amidst the wreckage, however, even though (like everyone else) you’d been sickened by scenes of the destruction in the aftermath, it was still all too easy to forget the very real human impact.
The PR industry always wrestles awkwardly with tragedy. You see, our role, in part, is to serve as the mediascape’s eternal optimists. Given our druthers, we only want to share good news, and that good news is about our clients. And PR firms’ clients – while sympathetic human beings mostly – still have metrics to hit when it comes to column inches, moving the needle, ROI, call-it-what-you-will.
So while the client contacts are empathetic in the immediate wake of a disaster, at the end of the month when the PR pros didn’t get the WSJ hit – because the WSJ reporter was too busy bailing water out of their basement to give a rat’s ass about the client’s latest breakthrough – someone’s still getting in trouble.
This leads to two types of problems when it comes to PR agencies’ response to tragedies:
1. Exploitive and Reprehensible: “As the effects of Hurricane Sandy begin to wane, CIOs are wondering about the safety of their data. Luckily, customers of XZY Storage Widget Company were assured of unparalleled data storage protection and uptime, during and after the East Coast’s Frankenstorm…”
2. Too Soon: This would be “a typical pitch” that by itself is harmless, but which to most reporters will come across as tone-deaf and thoroughly unwelcome.
While I hold our own agency to the highest standards, and would consider an exploitive pitch like the one above to be a firing offense, we are human; we did fall prey to the “too soon” error last week. We’re nimble, and we fixed it (including discussing fresh changes to our internal training curriculum) to ensure a smarter and more empathetic response in future, but ultimately it just comes down to being a reasonable creature. Sometimes it’s best just to STFU, and take your lumps when that client contact conveniently forgets how hard it was to find a reporter with a working phone (and an open mind) in the aftermath of disaster.
Posted on: November 5, 2012 at 10:40 am By Todd Defren