This is the moment for action communications, says public relations legend Richard Edelman. He says that the old ways of PR are gone, and we have been left with more decency, less messaging. More honesty, less gimmicks. As we rebuild, here are the top three actions he recommends:
Be decent and remember it isn’t just about the money. “There are lots of places where the government is overwhelmed. There’s a big void. People will pay attention to ideas that are improving society and are ambitious, not just gimmicks and stunts. That’s cute, but that’s the old PR. You have to understand the power of action at this time.
“There was a moment when it felt like the government saved the day in April and May. Now it’s down to the real world: going back to work and how are we going to make money in restaurants at 25% capacity? The government’s not going to hand over money forever. The strong companies will get through this if they are creative, ambitious and decent. The last word is more important. You have to remember it can’t just about the money.“
Own your bad news. “Paul Rudd was funny as hell about wearing masks, but I also want to hear from people who say I’m wearing a mask because my grandma got sick. It needs to be relatable. The idea of only telling good news is not sufficient. Those days are over. People are going to call you out on the bad news if you don’t address it, so you might as well get it over with.
“The old PR was about telling half the story in the messaging. I don’t believe in messaging. It shouldn’t sound like something that was written by lawyers. It’s better if the chief executive or chief marketer or spokesperson has a story.“
Re-order your PR priorities. “There is now a freedom to come up with ideas that wouldn’t have been considered earlier this year. Clients are totally re-ordering their priorities. They are looking to PR firms to understand their brand and because we’re fast, we are attuned to the news. And if you have to change, change. Do something.
“I look at PR as the communications modality that is for action, not just for image and perception. Companies must lean into the problems. It’s not about just amplification anymore. It’s what’s the problem that needs to be solved? What’s the strategy? What’s the idea? And, then how do we amplify it?“
Richard Edelman is a 2020 AAF Hall of Famer and chief executive/president of global PR agency Edelman.