In the summer of 2017, I convinced my then 9-year-old daughter to attend a jungle camp that went by the brand name Youreka Nature Camps. They would take her and others her age on a five-day adventure to Junga, a little-known place in the pristine Himalayas. All in all, an absolute bliss. However, there was a worrisome part that she would be with total strangers without talking to me even once during the entire duration. It was natural as a mother of a solo child to feel anxious about such a thing, but children are different. With peers, fun, frolic, ghost stories and shared confectioneries, who remembers parents anyway. She was going to be much more than just a phone call away. Besides regulating my irresistible urges to reach out to her every now and then, there was one more silver lining to this forced separation. Over the next few days, Youreka sent me an evening SMS everyday recapping the daily shenanigans of the kid gang without singling out my daughter. If they were not specifically calling me for her, it meant good news. With their team of experts and child-friendly instructors, they worked very hard to deliver to me, no news. Because according to them, no news was good news.
Now what is in this incident for us as corporate communicators, fire fighters and crisis handlers? Have you ever felt the pangs of not being in the news? Do you feel the need to justify your role because you did not get a mention in a corporate birthday party article for best place to work? Do you feel the need to tom-tom every obscure award win to everyone who cares to listen? Then I am with you. Penning down this note does not mean that I am already over the occasional paranoia of out of sight, out of mind, but I am getting there. Slowly.
I vividly remember the recruiters’ favorite question while hiring for a PR role. This “prove yourself” question, by the way, still has its stronghold. Despite fanciful role-playing interviewer and interviewee before the interview, I dreaded hearing “So how will you prove your value to the business?” And I would be utterly baffled. Naively enough, I assumed that hiring for that role meant that the business understood the relevance of PR. As a natural reflex defense mechanism, I would start hard-selling PR and the importance of incomprehensible metrics to prove our “take home” to the big boss. Very soon, I would inadvertently launch myself into proving the validity of advertising value equivalents (AVEs) and the more modern “impact assessment” frameworks to justify “why PR people should also get paid.” That as soon as I join, the consequently soaring AVEs and other overblown metrics due to my extra pushiness would somehow prove my awesomeness and value.
If you’ve ever been a party to a performance review meeting, you know what I’m talking about. These are the ones where graphs and bar charts are deployed alongside bygone digital newspaper cuttings to assess our contribution to the business. We condense our hard work into a few slides and bullet points to prove ourselves. Yet again.
If you also work for an accident-prone business, you know how the typical mornings, noon, after noons, and nights go. A miss, a slip, an unforeseen turn of events for fault or no fault of ours can magically blow out of proportion. That ensuing organic coverage plastered across digital and print editions my friend, bring prayers on our lips, tears in our eyes, and throw our plans out of whack. Once again, we set about defending our “take home” as passionately as we can. Sometimes there are interspersed days with pleasant mornings where news alerts have nothing to do with us or ours so we can carry about our plans and business as usual. The days of no crisis. No news. No coverage. Nowhere. None whatsoever. Crisis averted.
“Crisis communication” finds an honorable mention in the curriculum vitae of most bona fide PR professionals including me. In all honesty, communicating during a crisis is neither easy nor exciting. What is however more exciting and practical is to work very diligently towards a “no news” realised state of PR enlightenment. That definitely takes better planning, solid relationships, foolproof governance and compliances and above all, consistent tracking and daily routines. Now on AVEs, hopefully someday we will learn to absolve ourselves of the wrongdoing of having to turn down a great story on fire drills at work or extolling the relevance and cuteness of a popular actor who just endorsed our products. For all the work that we do behind the scenes which does not get condensed into those projected graphs and bar charts, let us give ourselves a little pat on our back, and remind ourselves “no news is good news.”
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