Proactive Public Relations: “Who’s On First?”

A Guest Post By Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA

We had what was, for the City of Boston, “major breaking news” recently as four-term Mayor Tom Menino announced he would not be seeking a fifth run at the City’s highest elected office.

The media, predictably and logically, went nuts. Breathless reports flooded all the television news programs, and print reporters frantically scurried to and fro in desperate search of “something new” to add to their columns.

Ironically (or maybe not in today’s world), the news was broken by a fellow…former reporter….on his blog.

Although I shouldn’t really be surprised, I still have to confess I was a smidge. I’m still very much a traditionalist. I get most of my news from paper newspapers and commercially broadcast newscasts. Granted, I do supplement that with online news services, my Twitter feed, and countless other platforms. But traditional news providers are my primary “go-to” sources.

This got me thinking, as a public relations professional now teaching the next generation(s) of PR pros, “Who’s on first?”

We always have been challenged by our clients or employers to be ahead of the news as much as possible…to anticipate events and proactively address their impact on us or our influence on them…to be first with our side of the story.

But things (obviously) have changed. We are not the only ones watching our business, and we’re certainly not the only ones with an opinion about our organization’s purpose and activities.

Most of us realize this. Not all of us accept that this is so.

We like to believe that we are the experts, and that others (read: “media”) should come to us for the “story.”

Quoth the Raven: “Nevermore.”

As Mayor Menino’s situation ably demonstrates, there’s always someone else watching and waiting for the opportunity to break the story…to beat the others to the punch…to “be on first.”

So here’s the takeaway for me: accept that this is so, build your communication strategies taking the unavoidable-ness of the situation (is that a word?!?) into consideration, and educate your boss/client on this reality.

I, for one, am energized by all this. It takes me back to the “old” days when we knew who covered our business and who the opinion leaders were. We were able to anticipate their reaction an event and to communicate (or at least try to communicate) our organization’s side of the story.

While it was comforting to think that I might have some influence on a story, it also was a “routine”: break out the media lists, contact the reporters who covered our industry, get “our” story out.

Not to sound too blasé about this, but “ho-hum.”

That part today hasn’t changed…but the need for speed in response, and the challenge of determining who is talking about you and reaching out to those individuals…or preempting their inevitable commentary with your own story…has.

David Meerman Scott addresses this in his excellent book, “Real-Time Marketing & PR.” To state David’s premise very, very simply: “In today’s mega-wired world where seemingly everyone is online and talking nonstop, he who hesitates is lost.”

React…respond…recover. It starts with an understanding that, when the story breaks, the “winner” will be “who’s on first.”

Will it be you? Or your competition?!?

Hazlett_KirkKirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Associate Professor of Communication (Undergraduate) at Curry College in Milton, MA. He also is Visiting Lecturer, Organizational and Professional Communication (Graduate), at Regis College in Weston, MA. Prior to his move into academia, Kirk practiced nonprofit and government public relations and marketing for more than 35 years in the US as well as Asia. Accredited by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), Kirk is a former member of PRSA’s national Board of Directors and has held leadership positions with PRSA Educators Academy and PRSA Northeast District as well as with the Boston and Hawaii PRSA chapters.