By: Olivia Windorf (@owindy_)
Storytelling is intrinsic to human culture. Whether it’s shared through folk tales, legends, myths, or just while sitting around a campfire – it’s what unites and teaches us about others. Storytelling has been the core of human nature since the beginning of time. For this very reason, Aileen Izquierdo and Heather Radi-Bermudez from Florida International University led a discussion at the PRSSA International Conference on how to change the narrative of stories when the news about your organization simply isn’t good. As trained PR pros, they provided past experiences and insight to show what they’ve done to change the perceived message.
Great stories make us feel, care, and connect us to one another. But, bad stories – have entirely the opposite effect. In media relations, it’s inevitable that public relations professionals will deal will both types of news.
Navigating bad news
The two speakers provided excellent insight into sharing the best way to define the narrative when sharing stories. They discussed the best way to amplify good news and also how to diffuse the bad news while attempting to change the narrative of the situation.
As PR professionals, it’s important to always create and maintain positive relationships with journalists. The first way to diffuse bad news is to rely on these strong relationships with journalists. Any positive relationships that have been made external to the organization are important to leverage when crises occur. Connecting with journalists can be as simple as getting to become friends with them and leveraging that relationship during times of crisis. Heather said: “In the absence of a relationship being symbiotic, there will not be a good story to share.”
Now, most journalists will have to comply with the requests or demands of their job but there’s always hope that they’ll curve the verbiage to help the organization out. Once the relationship, trust, and respect are present, the journalist and the PR professionals are able to get to the desired solution (best case scenario). Aileen says, “Respect is a part of it. But, understanding what the journalist needs is also a large part of it.” That being said, creating and maintaining those strong relationships are going to be important in times of crisis.
While explaining instances she’s encountered throughout her professional career, Aileen says: “PR professionals just want our good news out there – but that’s naive.” She follows up by saying that PR pros must put their egos aside and work with the CEO or C-suite at their organization in order to effectively change or spread the message that doesn’t reflect poorly on the organization.
Share good stories—consistently
Any PR pro must understand that if they are going to push the reporter back, there will be negative consequences. With so many channels to access in our digital world, its important to constantly be sharing those good stories and use those to your advantage in times of a crisis. Things like testimonials, blogs, awards, etc. should be shared to create a positive image in the public eye and will help maintain the company’s reputation when things are seeming to go south.
With this digital age, the two speakers reminded our audience: everything is instantaneous. Aileen said: “There’s no such thing as a 24-hour news cycle anymore.” Public relations pros are hurting themselves if they stay silent with the media. A crisis can follow an organization for years and sometimes entirely destroy its reputation. We don’t want that.
We can dictate our talking points, but we can’t entirely control the narrative. Although—it is our job to keep trying as much as we can.
Olivia Windorf is a senior at Grand Valley State University studying advertising and public relations, with a minor in writing. She is our VP of fundraising for GVSU PRSSA and an Account Associate for GVSU’s student-run PR firm, GrandPR. Her aspirations as a public relations professional include working in media relations, public affairs, and focusing on the nonprofit sector. In her free time, Olivia likes hanging out with her roommates and her cat, George, and listening to true crime or conspiracy theory podcasts.