Last week's PRWeek Forum was the first time I spent an extended amount of time with PR pros when everyone was "off the record" over two days.
We believed that the group (primarily senior corporate communicators) would feel more comfortable speaking frankly about crisis issues if they knew their experiences wouldn't be splashed across the pages of the magazine. This was undoubtedly true, borne out by the candid discussions that took place both inside and outside the meeting rooms.
For a journalist, "off-the-record" is a painful, but sometimes necessary state of engagement, but it is normally experienced one-on-one. What one learns from information that can't be published is often more important than the short-term juicy story. All the benefits of a seemingly free exchange are increased exponentially when the rules apply to a group dynamic.
The topic of crisis, of course, is a natural for a private session. PR pros love to share war stories. As a former corporate communications minion who worked for a publicly traded holding with almost daily crises, I can tell you that it is a buzz to be caught up in the maelstrom. It's also a buzz to hear others offer up their own experiences and answer (in some cases) tough questions about what they regret or would do differently.
In a strange way, I feel like I took a short break from journalism during this meeting and reacquainted myself with the character and spirit of the profession. When pushed to extreme limits - through a company's negligence, stupidity, short-sightedness, or lack of preparation - PR people will sometimes find that it's their moment to excel.
That does not mean they always keep their jobs at the end of it, either, sometimes through no fault of their own. It's easy to forget that only those experiencing the crisis firsthand really know how tough it is - and this profession is full of Monday-morning quarterbacks. But in some cases, a crisis can even yield unexpected opportunities for a company's brand, as well as for the communicators working to save it.
Next 'Closing the Gap' to focus on procurement
The first PRWeek/Peppercom "Closing the Gap" breakfast panel tackled the issue of how PR and sales pros can better work together for the company's benefit. The second panel on June 24 will ask agency, corporate, and procurement pros how the industry can bridge the divide between those watching corporate spending and those offering services.
The relationship is, after all, more triangular than lateral between firms and purchasing departments, given the role of the in-house PR team. In a recent interview for "The Agency Business," Michael Bigelow, CFO of Waggener Edstrom, explained how PR firms can actually boost their relevance to clients by forging relationships with procurement departments. Our next panel, which features such participants as Joe Duffy, assistant VP of procurement for Allstate; Charlie Young, SVP of marketing and communications for Tyco; and Lou Capozzi, CEO of MS&L, will try to identify meaningful ways to do just that.
- Julia Hood
For more information or to register for the PRWeek/Peppercom "Closing the Gap" breakfast panel, which takes place on June 24 at the Waldorf Astoria, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.