Unexpected PR questions

I was part of a ‘speed networking’ event recently, acting as the more experienced, (cough, older) PR practitioner to speak to new, emerging (and younger) practitioners about PR.

It’s always refreshing to chat with people who are eager to hear more about your craft. And while there are many standard questions revolving around how to pitch to journalists and the best way to write a media release, some questions are more rare, insightful and surprising.

Here’s a sample of some of those questions – and my answers – from that speed networking night.

Have you ever refused to work with a (potential) client?
Yes. You would think this might not happen to a consultant eager to grow a big stable of work – but I have definitely chosen not to work with some organisations. Reasons for refusal – for any consultant – include not being ‘ethically aligned’ with that organisation (eg you may not want to work with the gambling industry or a cigarette company), through to a personality clash. That last reason is tricky. You can ‘get a vibe’ from somebody you meet which may lead you think you wouldn’t enjoy working with them and often your gut instinct is right. However, I’ve also learned over time, that people I don’t connect with immediately can go on to become some of my favourite people – it just takes time to get to know each other. It’s a balancing act and having the ability to trust your inner voice is something that’s worth developing and not ignoring.

Photo by Ly Tran, NEPG member.
Photo by Ly Tran, NEPG member.

Have you ever experienced sexual discrimination?
This was a *huge* question. I have worked in some great organisations for some warm and supportive employers who I have remained friends with and I am not aware that I was overlooked for any roles on the basis of my gender. I’ve also worked everywhere from a supermarket (during high school), a political office, government departments, a PR agency and more in between.

However I’ve often found myself in workplaces where gender slurs and jokes based on stereotypes have grown to an uncomfortable level and I’ve had to make it clear that *enough is enough*. I’ve also consciously worked hard not to be the female in the room who takes the handwritten notes or who pours the water while male colleagues sit around – there’s just something about that which grinds my personal gears, and over 20 years of work it can be a gender stereotype which a room full of people lapses into. That’s changed over time.

Happily, during my career I’ve had many female managers who have been wonderful mentors and keen to encourage me to apply for promotions and new roles. Does this mean I’ve avoided the “men appointing men in their likeness” spiral? Perhaps. Overall, my career has been a positive experience.

How do you help clients experiencing a crisis?
First, you need to calm them down. When your company is experiencing an issue and media is knocking on the door, it’s not a pleasant process. Clients need empathy, reassurance and then your PR plan needs to kick into action.

It’s important to have an issues and crisis plan in place already and for your PR manager to be advised of crises asap. My role has been made more difficult on some occasions, when clients have communicated with journos at length, but only brought me into the conversation when things reached crisis point. There’s nothing more awkward (well, maybe a handful of things) as having to call a journo to apologise for your client; to try to backtrack and clean things up. Can you imagine the media’s attitude when I call and have to say “I’m the PR consultant and I’m here to help …”?

More about this event …
This event mentioned at the beginning of this post was devised and managed by the New and Emerging Practitioner Group (NEPG) of the Public Relations Institute here in South Australia. If you’d like to know more about NEPG, check out the NEPG Facebook group. The PRIA national website is here and houses a wealth of PR information including details on membership and the make-up of the current South Australian Council of which I am President.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Interesting questions! I’ve definitely experienced being the one that had to take notes and do the coffee etc. I do have a support role but there have been times when I’m attending outside of a support position where it has still happened, as have female colleagues who work in the technical space. Not good enough!

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