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When too much PR is bad

26th January 2016


Can good public relations be dangerous?

Remember the time when senior execs love their story splashed across mainstream media? Their story is out, the calls flood in, pat on the back and obviously the elusive and not so elusive sweet spot – more business and conversions. There’s one problem with good PR; you actually have to back all that talk with the core of what a company can offer. When smart PR professionals gets a little too cocky, company execs are awash with the Dunning–Kruger effect or in simple English thinking they are better than what they are! This is why PR is a double edged sword that requires careful deliberation. And this deliberation is precisely why PR deserves a seat in the boardroom.

The recent (3-month old, thereby old according to a millennial?) movie Martian, speaks so much about why you need a good PR person at the highest table. Not sure if anyone remembers Kristen Wiig’s role as Annie Montrose, the director of media relations for NASA. She was tasked with telling the world that Matt Damon, the protagonist, died in Mars. She was then tasked with telling the world that he’s alive. If that weren’t enough, she was then tasked with telling the world that they might not be able to rescue him, and he’s most likely to die of hunger. Ah, try putting a spin on that, will you? 

It speaks so much about the importance of communication in an organisation. The way you’re perceived matters to more people than you can imagine. And if there’s one thing the press and all of us love - a bucket of popcorn and a systematic meltdown. Picking an agency, therefore, shouldn’t be about the bottom-line, but people whom you entrust sensitive information with. Obviously, a one-year relationship is not the right way to go about hiring an agency. Think long-term. And you absolutely have to have to have to marry the company’s mission, with the agency’s mandate.

Homejoy is a prime candidate to fit this model. It’s a company that courted the Press and everyone loved it, until they wrapped up overnight. In more ways than one, it exposed the fallacies of tech reporting in the Valley and how PR can usurp facts. (Or the communication head was not privy to their internal workings) The home services market is riddled with some pressing questions and we heard all the explanations AFTER the company capsized. The sort of verbose reporting that aims to offer obvious punditry to justify their prior journalistic inadequacy. Medica tech company, Theranos could very well fit this model. The unicorn company went from ambitious darling startup to the ‘if it’s too good to be true, it’s probably not’ company. I could be wrong, but still worthy of wondering if the company had come out clean on a number of issues prior to a stinging Journal article. Did the communication head have a seat on the table and given the free reign to call shots? Worth mulling over. 

When PR understands the company’s overall plans, growth and shortcomings, communication is synchronised. You don’t want to be going on a blitzkrieg, but edging cautiously and focusing on strengths and negating weaknesses. Because when a company falters for everything it stands, that fall is mightier than a hundred flattering stories. Besides, the amassed ‘credibility’ is an ephemeral myth when the lose chips begin to sprout. And that’s exactly why PR has to be strategic. It’s not a quantitative game, and for the ones, who still think it is, wait and watch how good PR can decimate you quicker than the whiff of a Canary.

Adithya Venkatesan works with Gutenberg Communications helping startups and enterprises narrate their stories to the world. He reads fervently, travels assiduously and is a recipient of PRmoment India’s 30 under 30 award for 2015. He also thinks Huxley’s dystopian future is more plausible than Orwell’s.


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