2019 Headlines to Help PR Pros in Their Careers: Part II

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[Editor's Note: Almost every day during 2019 there were articles about PR situations gone wrong. All one had to do was scan the major print pubs to see them. The lessons in these articles constitute a tuition-free education in PR.  This is the second in a 2-part series that reviews 2019 headlines/stories and finds PR lessons in them. Part I appeared last week.

Situation: A story about Ken Fisher, the money manager, was headlined, “The Lewd and Sexist Joke That Cost Nearly $2 Billion” (Oct. 24, 2019, the NY Times). The remark was made during a financial service industry conference and the result was having institutional and pension investors withdraw funds from his firm.

Lesson to remember and relevance to our business: PR professionals should emphasize to those they represent that what some people would consider a harmless, off-color joke may be considered an offensive remark to others. Fisher's example is an ideal learning tool.

Situation: “Some N.B.A. Draft-Night Snubs Are Turning Into Stars” (NY Times, Dec. 11, 2019) 

Lesson to remember and relevance to our business: Top management does not always know which employees contribute most to the success of a campaign. If you are in a situation where supervisors hide your contributions, let management know what you're doing. Don’t let others take credit for your work. If you still fail to receive due credit, it’s time to move on. In our business, it’s not unusual for an individual who is passed over because management is unaware of the person’s ability to rise to a high management level elsewhere.

Situation: The headline read, “Board Bias and the CEOs They Chose” (Wall Street Journal, Dec. 13, 2019).  The article noted a study that found “company boards have a tendency to overlook the failings of chief executives they chose.”

Lesson to remember and relevance to our business: The same is true when high agency executives appoint their buddies or ill-qualified personnel to supervisory positions. If you are a victim of office-politics supervisors, it can have a negatively influence your career. There are a few ways to combat this: Ask to be transferred; keep a record of your accomplishments, detailing how your supervisor took credit for them; ask clients for memos regarding your work that you can send to H.R. for inclusion in your file; likewise with friendly journalists (and don’t be shy about copying agency brass), even though it will annoy your supervisor; and send memos to top agency executives about your accomplishments.

If none of this works there are other tactics that may help you: Go to top management to plead your case in person. Tell them unless you get the credit and promotions you deserve, you will consider leaving the agency. Given that the higher the executive the less they know about who is doing what below the supervisory level, doing so might result in positive results.

A caveat: make certain that the CEO or president of the company did not appoint the supervisor you are complaining about. If the supervisor is a political appointee, no matter how strong a case you make it might go for naught. In addition, be aware that there always is the possibility that you might be told, “If you’re not happy here, it’s best you leave.” But that might be in your best interest.

Situation: “Boeing’s Fixes to 737 MAX Not Likely to Get FAA Approval Until February,” (Dec. 13, 2019, Wall Street Journal).
Lesson to remember and relevance to our business: When a company has a major PR crisis negative news likely will receive coverage despite the work of PR-crisis specialists. I don’t know how much money that Boeing and Wells Fargo have spent trying to limit negative press coverage. It’s certainly more money than you, I or any of our colleagues made during the span of the crises.

Lesson: In an attempt to lessen negative coverage, a company communicator or PR professional can’t talk or spend his/her way to limiting bad press. Only the media can decide when to end negative coverage. In addition, all the advertising and PR in the world can’t solve a company's problem.

Situation: “‘60 Minutes ’Producer Says She Was Harassed, Then Sidelined” (NY Times, Dec. 18, 2019). The article discussed an associate producer who said she was marginalized after making a formal complaint about a senior producer.

Lesson to remember and relevance to our business: H.R. works for management. They are not employed to look after your interests. If you are experiencing harassment, don’t complain to H.R. Instead, keep a record detailing the date, time and type of harassment.

After you have compiled a history, consult an attorney from a respected firm who specializes in labor law. Make certain that the attorney doesn’t suggest a lawsuit as the first step. A principled attorney should tell you how and when to report the harassment to H.R. or above, what you should and should not say. Attempting to come to a settlement that you consider fair should be your priority. Lawsuits are expensive, but sometimes necessary. Consider them as a last option.

Arthur Solomon was SVP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller and a journalist. He is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. arthursolomon4pr@juno.com or artsolomon4pr@optimum.com