Questions with Fabiana Meléndez, publicist at Zilker Media
What is one of the most important takeaways PR professionals need to keep in mind when account managing during a crisis?
This is not the time to be a “yes” person. Working with clients means knowing when to pick your battles. During times of non-crisis, it can be easier to go along with client requests even if they are a bit silly in order to conserve energy and work efficiently through the rest of the strategy. However, this is the time to stand firm on your counsel and push back as needed. If a client feels the absolute need to post on social media during a national blackout, you need to be clear with your recommendations against it.
How can we effectively manage brands during a crisis when clients still need to be able to turn a profit or focus on the business side of things?
We have to look beyond crisis management. The way we, as professionals, counsel our clients during this time can either make or break their brand. Editors, journalists, and media professionals are scrutinizing every pitch and are looking closely at their social media. Did they have appropriate messaging during the pandemic? How did they support employees during national layoffs? Is their social media diverse? Do they go all the way with diversity and inclusion initiatives and move beyond D&I statements on the website? We need to think ahead beyond the crisis and set up our clients to make shifts in their communication practices long term.
On that same note, what can PR professionals do to ensure that client brands are not impacted as hard during crises and have good standing with potential consumers in the future?
It’s time to walk the walk. With national crises, it can be easy for clients to be swayed by what their competitors are doing so that they are not left out of the conversation. But posting a black square on Instagram, for example, does not equate to taking a stand against injustice. If clients want to participate in these types of conversations, it is crucial that we inform them that this is not a fad — it is a movement. This is not the time for empty gestures because consumers will see right through it. Now is the time to walk the walk. Any statements that are being made will need to be backed up by action.
What is an additional way agencies and PR professionals can ensure clear cut communication during times like these?
PR professionals set the standard for communication practices externally, and internally. The counsel we provide for clients needs to be implemented internally as well. But if your agency has only been focused on client work, it’s time to look inward and ensure that your pitching practices, social media posts, and strategies are empathetic and don’t dilute the message at large.