Telling your story and building consensus in sensitive situations

PR professionals generally don’t come across well in popular culture. Inevitably, TV shows and movies depict them as aggressively immoral flacks determined to “spin” their clients out of dicey circumstances with some linguistic gymnastics. It can make for good entertainment, but it gives the public an inaccurate -- and unfortunate -- impression of what we do in the communications field.

At Fryed Egg, we take seriously our reputation as purveyors of truth. Our approach with clients facing complex or potentially controversial circumstances is to emphasize communicating with fairness, respect and unfailing honesty -- while following a comprehensive, carefully constructed strategic plan.

Organizations of all kinds occasionally run into hot button issues that require great care in communications. We work with our clients to tell their story and ensure that their audiences understand where they are coming from -- truthfully.

Starting with a plan

One of the worst mistakes you can make is to go charging headlong into a complex issue without stopping first to make a plan. Complicated situations call for a holistic communications plan that can guide your response every step of the way. It’s important from the outset to understand any potential misperceptions that you will need to correct and to clarify the elements at play. Who is your audience, what are their concerns, what is their base of knowledge, and what do you need them to understand? Ideally, your planning will come early in the process as you anticipate potential challenges, rather than waiting until a crisis develops. If you fail to anticipate a backlash, you inevitably will be left scrambling with a crisis communications plan -- one that starts with you already on your back foot playing defense. A multifaceted communications plan will allow you to proactively share your story and your vision before the situation rises to that level.

Define your message

A phrase often used in these situations is “controlling the narrative,” but that’s in many ways a misleading expression. “Control” is never something any organization can ever truly achieve. Instead, your plan should be about sharing your side of the story so that any “narrative” that develops around the situation at hand features your honest perspective. Your planning should emphasize precisely defining your message according to those terms, so that your communications can remain consistent -- muddled, inconsistent messaging will only confuse your audience and make them question your honesty. Your message should consider the effect a situation might have on people’s lives and the emotions that might be stirred up by it. And, as a result, your message should contain empathy, understanding and crucial information.

Finding the right outlets

Every situation is unique. That’s why you don’t want to fall into the trap of choosing the outlets you will use to communicate with your audiences without careful consideration of what makes sense for the moment and the message. Most often, an integrated, multifaceted approach will be best, incorporating a mix of traditional media, advertising, social media, direct mail, video, blogs, in-person and virtual events, and dedicated online resources. Fryed Egg understands how to read any situation and audience to help you determine the best way to marshal your resources to get your message out.

Telling your story with honesty and transparency

When it’s time to tell your story, remember that the best way to build understanding and consensus with your audiences is by being transparent and forthcoming. If you choose to sugarcoat or mislead, your audience will see right through it and the damage to your reputation could be severe. One of the worst mistakes you can make is dodging discussions and interactions because your attempts at avoiding direct interactions will speak volumes. Certain communications options, such as video, are particularly helpful toward allowing you to demonstrate your humanity when delivering your message and to speak directly to your audience, ensuring that there is no filter between you that might distort your message.

Change can be hard. So can conflict. When your organization is facing a challenging situation, you want a communications team on your side that will help you tell your story with clarity and honesty. If you want to learn more about how Fryed Egg can help, contact us at (813) 478-0494 or [email protected] or visit