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How to best represent your PR clients when handling sensitive topics

May 24, 2021

Following Amy’s article on how to write content for sensitive subjects on your website, I wanted to share insights on how to balance the deliverables by marketing sensitive subjects in non-owned spaces online, on behalf of your client.

In digital PR, it’s very important to get the balance between raising brand awareness and sensitive topics right. Getting it right will be helpful for brand awareness. Getting it wrong can damage a brand’s reputation. Digital PR is important and crucial to uphold brand awareness, but you don’t want to come across as insensitive.

Your client put their brand in your hands, handle it with care!

Working in a digital marketing agency, our clients put their brand and products/services in our hands and trust that we’ll do the right thing by them. Dealing with sensitive subjects doesn’t change the standard and push of digital PR marketing, it’s the messaging that will vary. As long as you’re providing information that adds value and matches the tone of your clients’ brand, you’re on the right track. For certain brands and topics, it might not be possible to be humorous in messaging, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be positive. Not being able to use puns or be witty in your messaging, doesn’t mean you or the story you’re pitching can’t be inspiring. On the flip-side, you don’t want to come across as morbid (extreme example here) or you’d risk your client’s brand getting a negative connotation.

Differentiating between yours, clients’, and journalists’ tone of voice

As the middleman, you’re responsible for conveying your client’s message using their tone of voice when pitching and speaking to journalists. It’s important to find the right balance here.

Naturally, a journalist will have one tone of voice in their articles and most likely another more personal way of speaking in emails. So do you. As a PR person maintaining the relationship with the journalists, you’ll be delivering a load of different messages from a wide range of clients and subjects to them. When doing so, make sure that you have a natural standpoint to the client’s message, without losing your own tone of voice in your main body of the pitch. Having a neutral standpoint should minimize the risk of your client’s tone of voice and message not getting lost.

However, as the middleman delivering the message to journalists to share with their readers, there are things we simply don’t have control over. Journalists will want to take their own spin on a story to make it stand out and increase number of readers as possible. It’s out of your control but, as long as you have approached them in a neutral way and used terminology that doesn’t make any claims (if unable to do so) or come across as insensitive when talking about the subject, you have protected yourself and should be absolutely fine.

Leave out personal thoughts, unless agreed by client

I have, in the past, learnt from my own mistakes where I have included what I thought was an innocent and encouraging message about the client’s product but, by not knowing the journalist well enough, they ended up using my message in their article as a promise on something that my client’s product would deliver. If it had delivered, I’d be out of the woods. Unfortunately, the journalist didn’t think the product delivered and I had to deal with damage control which, fortunately all parties were happy with in the end. Whether the article would have had a different spin if I’d not included my comment, we’ll never know.

When pushing stories with a sensitive subject to journalists and press, a good idea is to include quotes from your clients and relevant case studies that brings expertise and hands on experience. Bringing in a human element to the story will elevate it and make it more interesting. As per the AP style guide, journalists should never make any changes to a quote and would risk their professional reputation if they do so, if the client and person providing the quote are happy to be associated with each other and for the message to be in the eyes of the public, go for it.

In summary, when delivering sensitive topic subjects to journalists make sure that you take a neutral standpoint, without losing your own tone of voice. Leave out personal thoughts about the subject, unless valid or with no risk of it being used in the actual article. Do your research. We are all human beings with our own back stories and it could well be that the sensitive topic you’re representing lies closely with the journalist as well. You don’t want to upset them and risk your client getting on their wrong side, especially as it could be the start of a valuable relationship.

by Jennie Lindehoff – head of PR & Outreach, ClickThrough Marketing

Jennie Lindehoff is ClickThrough Marketing's head of PR & Outreach. She writes from experience in promoting digital PR campaigns using outreach and pitch knowledge for numerous sectors such as healthcare, finance, and retail.


Digital PR
PR advice
PR strategy
Press Relations
Difficult subjects
Sensitive Subjects
Press Communications
communications campaign