PR fundamentals universally apply - even in tragedy

My years of PR skills recently came in handy in ways I'd never in my wildest nightmares imagined. A very close friend of mine lost her previously healthy, normal little 5-year-old girl to complications from H1N1.

My years of PR skills recently came in handy in ways I'd never in my wildest nightmares imagined. A very close friend of mine lost her previously healthy, normal little 5-year-old girl to complications from H1N1. The death of a little girl, the loss of a child, has to be one of the more horrible things that happen in life. And this one happened so suddenly, and was just completely life stopping to everyone who heard their story. 

That in and of itself had PR implications, particularly as fear and uncertainty grows about H1N1, or swine flu, and its effect on young children, with pre-existing conditions, but also those healthy.

But in this case, my friend did what moms seem to do. She sprung to action. She started an endowment in her late daughter's name, 36 hours after her death, and wanted to jump start it to get her daughter's legacy going. 

Enter PR, enter me. Suddenly, what I've done all of my career for companies as large as HP, and Capital One, down to the smallest brand new tech startup, had the potential to positively impact my friend's life, and the memory of her little girl.

I was reminded in helping my friend get coverage of her painful story of the PR fundamentals all us “flacks” know so well. The fundamentals universally apply, whether you are trying to help a company's bottom line, manage a CEO's press interview, or ensuring a friend's moving story is captured in a touching and tasteful manner. These include:

  • Develop your story and the “hooks,” all the different angles and directions press might take the story
  • Work with your client to weave in and repeat key messages, the simple sound bites that resonate
  • Have all components at-the-ready: available interview times, facts and data, pictures, videos, etc.
  • Anticipate the tough questions and prepare your “client” to answer them
  • Pitch honestly and openly; let press know who else you are talking with
  • Help your “client” in speaking with the press, from wearing simple solid colors on air and looking at the interviewee, not the camera, to steering the conversation
  • Factor in all the social media tools to share your message directly and to forward the coverage you get – Facebook posts, Twitter links, and plain old e-mails
  • Trust your instincts and protect your client. If an opportunity seems like it won't go the way you want, walk away

In three days, we were able to raise $15,000 for the endowment, and that's just the start. My friend's family has been changed forever; losing her daughter is something she'll wrestle with the rest of her life. Thanks to some good old fashioned PR at the beginning of this long journey, hopefully there will be some positive things to focus on as well.

Laura Beck is EVP and MD, Porter Novelli Austin

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