All posts by Jennifer Farmer

5 Reasons Your Communications Strategy Should Include Editorial Boards

By Jennifer R. Farmer

Editorial-board meetings are a low-cost yet effective way to influence public opinion. If they are not a part of your communications strategy, they should be.

Ed boards publish editorials on a range of topics, including issues in the news, ballot measures, and the policy positions of elected officials and candidates for office.

Unlike a news department that reports the news, ed boards issue editorials that represent the board’s and the publisher’s views. They generally include the editorial-page editor and writers; the opinion editor and op-ed columnists; and the publisher. Their meetings can produce several possible outcomes:

  1. The paper can publish an editorial supporting your position on an issue.
  2. It could publish an editorial opposing your position.
  3. It might elect to remain neutral and not weigh in at all.
  4. You could land an editorial and a news story on your issue, since ed-board meetings sometimes include one or more representatives from the newsroom.
  5. You could be invited to write an op-ed articulating your position.

In publishing editorials, ed boards are both stating their position and attempting to influence public opinion. Because they can weigh in on any issue in the news at any time, engaging with them proactively will make it more likely they will consider your perspective before publishing an editorial that could influence the public’s perception of your position and cause.

Well-meaning nonprofit leaders can get bogged down in the work their organizations do and overlook the need to explain the merits of their policy views or policy proposals to the media. Such leaders are often discouraged when they read editorials that, to their mind, totally miss the point on a given issue. Don’t leave anything to chance, or assume that journalists understand a given position.

Here are five specific reasons why you should schedule meetings with editorial boards:

They will weigh in on an issue with or without you. Reach out proactively to discuss your causes and policy prescriptions. If an ed board decides to cover your issue, it will know your perspective. Moreover, once you meet board members, they may come back to you for information before writing about an issue in which you’re involved.

For instance, my former employer, the Advancement Project, met with a representative of The New York Times editorial board to discuss the Voting Rights Act. During the meeting, we discussed our litigation challenging Wisconsin’s 2011 voter ID law. When a member of the board decided to write an editorial about the law, he contacted me to clarify many points. This would not have happened had we not met earlier.

You might get two for the price of one. These meetings often include reporters or even the publisher, particularly at smaller media outlets. This presents a rare opportunity to share viewpoints with media representatives with varied roles. You might land a news story addressing your issue as well as an editorial. But remember that for this reason, editorial-board meetings are on the record unless you explicitly request an off-the-record discussion and the newspaper consents.

You might be invited to submit an op-ed. Editorial boards often publish their opinion and an opposing viewpoint. These contrary views, written by outside contributors, are positioned opposite the editorial page, hence the “op-ed” label. A board may also decline to address an issue in an editorial but invite a guest to do in an op-ed.

In my book Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget you can read about a phone meeting I arranged with the Orlando Sentinel editorial board to discuss disparities in school discipline. The editorial-page editor was considering writing an editorial supporting expanded police presence in schools. After discussing the potential unintended consequences of this policy, the paper declined to write an editorial and instead offered leaders at my nonprofit an opportunity to write an op-ed highlighting the negative effects. This would not have happened without the meeting.

You can influence policy makers. The more publicly available information there is about your cause, the easier it becomes to build support for it. Lawmakers are move likely to vote as you would like on an issue if they better understand it. Moreover, when elected officials consider implementing policy proposals, they often check to see which editorial boards have opined on the issue; it’s one way they measure public sentiment.

You may avoid vilification. Meeting with editorial-board members does not ensure they will agree with your position on every issue. But once you’ve impressed upon them who you are and what you represent, they will usually be less likely to vilify you. A face-to-face meeting can at least neutralize opposition on an issue, or dissuade the board from weighing in against you.

 

Getting in the Door

Should you decide to request an editorial-board meeting, here’s what you need to do in going about it:

  • Research the board you’d like to meet and make a direct approach. Identify the editorial-page editor — he or she will be listed in the outlet’s Opinion section — then email or call that person to request a meeting.
  • The meeting request should briefly summarize what you plan to share and why the board may want to meet with you and your team. Provide biographies of each person who will attend.
  • Once a newspaper or media outlet agrees to meet, schedule the ed board meeting far enough in advance that you have time to prepare — four to six weeks is a good lead time.
  • Keep in mind that the meeting does not obligate the paper to publish an editorial on your issue or guarantee when it might do so. In 2013, I arranged a meeting between the executive director of the Advancement Project’s national office and the Washington Post editorial board to discuss the nonprofit’s work to end the school-to-prison pipeline. The Post published an editorial on the topic — about six months later. Ed boards often hold an editorial until they deem it to be timely; in this instance, the piece coincided with release of new Department of Education guidance on school discipline.

 

This article originally appeared on Philanthropy.com

Jennifer Farmer is the author of “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget,” a practical guide to generating media coverage regardless of your resources. 

Does Credibility Still Matter?

Building-Credibility

By Jennifer R. Farmer

Early in my career, I learned public relations professionals should dutifully manage relationships with the media. Above all, I was instructed to guard my credibility; without it, I’d be of no use to my employer or the causes I represent. Having spent the last few weeks watching President Trump’s administration interact with the press, it’s tempting to consider whether the rules of professional decorum between journalists and the subjects they cover still apply. Further, is credibility a relic of the past?

Contrary to current events, credibility and decorum are as important today as they’ve always been.

During his initial address to White House correspondents on Saturday, January 21, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted that more people attended Donald Trump’s inauguration than any inauguration in history. Aerial scans of the crowd suggested otherwise. Additionally, the Washington area transit authority noted lower ridership for President Trump’s inauguration than President Barack Obama’s in 2009 and President George W. Bush’s in 2005. Following claims of record turnout in 2017, many in the media questioned the administration’s relationship with the truth.

Let’s be clear, Spicer did more than challenge something as insignificant as crowd size; he seemed to chastise the correspondents before abruptly leaving the podium without entertaining a single question. Like the rest of us, former press secretaries Jay Carney and Ari Fleischer seemed puzzled by Spicer’s behavior. Fleischer, President George W. Bush’s one-time press secretary, referred to Spicer’s comments as a “statement you’re told to make by the President. And you know the President is watching.”

When pressed on why President Trump presumably ordered Spicer to quibble about a matter that could be easily disproved, White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd that Spicer gave “alternative facts.” I’m a proponent of pivoting during media interviews but the alternative facts line was rich.

Just a few weeks after Conway’s now infamous “alternative facts” line, she referred to a terrorist attack in Bowling Green, Kentucky that never actually happened. When challenged over the false claim, Conway stated it was a simple mistake. She later suggested persons making an issue out of the flub were “haters.” However, it was quickly discovered that she’d referred to the Bowling Green massacre on two separate occasions. Spicer too referred to a non-existent terror attack — this time in Atlanta – when defending President Trump’s proposed travel ban targeting seven Muslim-majority countries.

During the next few briefings, Spicer’s combative and argumentative tone continued. So much so that his interactions with the press were lambasted in a widely-viewed skit by Melissa McCarthy on NBC’s Saturday Night Live (SNL).

I don’t envy Spicer; he’s in a high stakes position, and has yet to find his stride with reporters or the new Administration. If Spicer were the only member of Trump’s team with bizarre interactions with the press, perhaps I wouldn’t spend my time writing this post.

Yet, President Trump himself spent the presidential campaign characterizing the media as dishonest and untrustworthy. That trend has continued into his presidency with Trump declaring notable outlets such as CNN and the New York Times “fake news.” White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon went as far as to declare the media the “opposition party.”

The fourth estate has never been described in such way.

It bears noting that I’m not an apologist for the media. At times, I’ve been critical of some reporters and outlets for failing to provide context or playing into harmful narratives about marginalized communities. Still, attacking the media writ large as dishonest is patently false, if not strategic. With each attack, President Trump’s administration alienates his base from sound reporting, while positioning themselves as the sole arbiters of truth.

Sooner or later, these skirmishes will catch up with the administration. And it may happen much faster than any of us expect. Some outlets have grown so concerned about Conway’s credibility that they considered not booking her on some shows. The White House reportedly pitched Conway as a potential guest on CNN’s State of the Union show on Sunday, February 5, but CNN declined. Conway later took to Twitter to say that she declined the request due to familial obligations. CNN’s communications department then tweeted that they, in fact, declined the offer to have Conway on the show, going on to state, “those are the facts.” Conway’s continued falsehoods are embarrassing, and counter to the level of decorum we as citizens expect in her position. Moreover, to serve in a presidential administration, yet face the possibility of being unable to represent its position in the media due to credibility concerns is disturbing.

Even if the present environment suggests otherwise, it’s imperative to maintain credibility and extend professional courtesy when interacting with journalists, producers and radio and TV hosts. Further, public relations professionals and politicos should strive to make news, not become it; a principle this White House team has yet to grasp.

Six Things You Can Do to Stand Out as a Communicator

 By Jennifer R. Farmer

There are a host of things you can do to distinguish yourself in the workplace; some of these tips are more intuitive than others. Some have been frequently addressed — be the first one in the office and the last one to leave; produce quality work; build strong relationships; ask for and accept feedback, etc. But there are other steps you can take that are seldom discussed. What follows is my list of recommendations for things you can do, as a communicator, to distinguish yourself. My recommendations are a floor and not a ceiling in terms of what it takes to perform well, and effectively set yourself apart.

  1. Support the Brand: As a communicator, you exist to support your organization’s brand. Ensuring a strong brand improves the likelihood that your organization can continue to raise critical funds to continue important work. Written communications, digital media outreach and social media posts should ALL support the mission and vision of the organization. The decisions you make — which issues to weigh in on, what you post on the organization’s social media accounts, whether to respond to one media inquiry or another — should all be viewed from the lens of whether the action advances the brand.
  2. Read the News with A Sense of Action: For a communicator, reading the news is important, but insufficient. When you read, or view the news, do so from the lens of “what’s the action?” The action could be: sharing the article with journalists, colleagues or others who might be interested in the subject area; responding to the article with a Letter to the Editor or guest column; developing a policy solution to address the issue raised in a news report; or researching the topic further. Essentially, when you read or watch the news, you should ask yourself “what opportunity does the article or TV segment you’re watching/viewing present?” This will keep you and your organization one step ahead of competitors. It’ll also set you apart, increase your value to the organization by demonstrating your leadership skills. Once you come up with a possible action, share the idea with your colleagues and higher ups for their feedback.
  3. Take Initiative: Ideas should flow from management to staff as well as from staff to management. If the supervisor or manager is the only person generating ideas, the team is not working as effectively as it could. Moreover, no single person wants sole responsibility for creative thinking or generating new ideas. As a hiring manager and supervisor, I place a premium on initiative. The people who consistently come up with ideas for improving our work or sharing our message more effectively stand out. In time, they become people I proactively seek out for their thoughts on any range of topics. People who take initiative are also top of mind when thinking about who to recognize, retain and/or promote.
  4. Be Responsive: Communications is not a 9-to-5 job. While work/life balance is important, communicators should rarely completely tune out when they leave the office. On the weekends and in the evenings, you may want to sporadically check emails, social media accounts and voicemails to ensure you are responding to pressing matters or available should a crisis arise. For instance, the Orlando nightclub shooting occurred in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 12, 2016. For LGBTQ or gun-control advocacy groups, failing to immediately respond (issuing a press statement, scheduling a tweet, etc.) in the hours after the tragic shooting could be perceived as a miss. Even groups concerned with the denigration of Muslims would have wanted to immediately respond, even if the response was limited to appeals to refrain from using the shooting to scapegoat religious minorities.
  5. Be Timely: If you’re issuing a press statement in response to an issue in the news cycle, the statement should be drafted, edited and distributed within 2 hours if possible. This increases the likelihood that your comments or commentary is included in news segments. For most issues, a press statement doesn’t have to be long (one page or less will do), but it should be punchy and to the point. A short statement submitted within an hour of a major announcement is better than a long statement submitted hours, or the day after, after an announcement.
  6. Be Intentional About Ensuring Diverse Viewpoints: In fast-moving campaigns, it’s incredibly easy to move from one project to the other without evaluating whether you are benefitting from fresh and diverse viewpoints. As managing director of communications, I know part of my success hinges on my ability to move quickly. Relatedly, my success also depends on whether I’m able to respond to the unexpected (learning at the last minute that I need to produce a video or infographic, or manage complex campaign). When the unexpected happens, it can be tempting to rely on the same consultants I’ve used for years; after all, the consultants know me and my organization, meaning they can usually turn around projects with ease. If I limit myself to working with the same batch of vendors and consultants, I run the risk of not generating new ideas. Moreover, working with the same group of people can be problematic for another reason. Many of us are committed to racial diversity. When it comes to hiring vendors, or staff for that matter, if our networks don’t include people of color; chances are our vendor pool won’t either. The reason for this is simple; most people tend to hire people who they feel comfortable with or people in their or their colleagues’ networks. Identifying vendors (before you need them) who have unique experiences (some of which are informed by their race and ethnicity) is a good way to ensure diverse perspectives. This means we’ll sometimes need to step out of our comfort zones and re-bid contracts to make room for new ideas and new perspectives.

If you do these things, you’ll be well on your way to setting yourself apart as a communicator who is not only effective, but indispensable.

Jennifer R. Farmer is a strategic communicator and author of the forthcoming Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget. Purchase your copy today by visiting Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Extraordinary-PR-Ordinary-Budget-Strategy/dp/1626569932/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1484049466&sr=8-1&keywords=extraordinary+pr+ordinary+budget.

Effective PR

The Key to Being Effective in PR is Being Relentless

By Jennifer R. Farmer 

There’s no escaping the fact communications and public relations work involves an element of rejection. The rejection likely comes from reporters who may not be interested or available to cover a story idea you pitched. Rejection also occurs when the strategy you’ve proposed to meet an organizational challenge is overlooked or summarily dismissed.

As someone who’s been in the communications field for more than 15 years, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard “no” from organizational leaders and members of the media alike. For all the stories I’ve pitched and placed, there were countless others that didn’t see the light of day. For all the meeting requests I’ve sent to media executives, editors and reporters, many were flat out denied, and in some cases, I didn’t get a response at all.

Dealing with rejection is hard. But quickly overcoming rejection and being able to jump back is critical to being an effective advocate and a successful communicator. Often communicators will experience “no” multiple times before finally making it to a “yes.” Bo Bennett’s quote, “rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success” rings true.

However, sometimes “no’s” come with silver linings. A “no” with an explanation may be viewed just as favorably as an immediate “yes, I’ll cover your story.” For instance, I asked a member of my team to pitch The Washington Post on a guest column about the systemic oppression of Native Americans. The Washington Post declined to publish the piece. When we politely inquired as to the basis for the decision, the opinion page editor, Michael Larabee, graciously offered that the piece was beautifully written, but submitted too close to the desired publication date. Our piece was submitted for consideration the Tuesday before the Sunday we hoped the column would run, which was the opening day of the 2014 professional football season. Such valuable information allowed me better establish internal deadlines to successfully place opinion pieces in the future.

Relentlessness is about patience and persistence. Had we not pressed for an answer, we may not have known The Post’s desired lead-time for non-urgent opinion pieces. Had we stopped at the first, second or third “no” (we pitched the piece to The National Journal, Politico and The Washington Post before finally getting to yes with MSNBC.com) our piece would never have been placed. Failing to place an opinion piece is losing an opportunity to share our message. Opinion pieces allow commentary (i.e., your message) to be shared directly with readers, and as an earned media tool, can be published without a corresponding price tag. In this way, stopping at “no” is unacceptable.

Relentlessness is about seeing denial as a temporary, rather than permanent, fixture. It’s about viewing denial as an opportunity to tweak and refine. It’s also about refusing to take denial as rejection, which is personal. My work however is professional. Therefore, I cannot experience rejection for my work, only denial. This shift in perspective enables me to better cope with obstacles that will invariably come. Moreover, just because a reporter or producer doesn’t bite on a story idea today, doesn’t mean the idea is permanently doomed.

So How Does One Become Relentless in PR?

From my experience, the key to being relentless in public relations is believing in something bigger than yourself.

When we believe in something bigger than ourselves, we are likely to stick with it. We’re passionate when we talk about it, and that passion is contagious. When we believe in something, we’ll go to the ends of the earth fighting for it.

A memorable time when I experienced this was in North Carolina in 2013 during the start of the weekly Moral Monday protests. I had run the Nike Women’s Half-Marathon: that’s 13.1 miles. After my run, I wanted to do nothing more than go home, shower, sit on the couch and devour the biggest cupcake I could find. The problem is I pledged to attend a planning meeting with the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP the same day as the half marathon. Having just run my heart out, I wasn’t the least bit excited about flying to North Carolina.

I was tired when I arrived, but by the time I left the Davie Street Presbyterian Church in Raleigh where the pre-demonstration service was being held, I was completely energized. At Davie Street, I witnessed the greatest display of compassion and camaraderie between people who were young, old, Black, white, people of faith and those who professed no faith at all, gay, straight, Christian, Muslim and many others. I had never seen such brotherly love in my life. Attendees treated each other with such love and respect. They were a family, united in a belief that their state needed a change. From my first encounter in that church, I was SOLD-HOOK- LINE-AND SINKER. From that point on, I decided I would do whatever was necessary to support the movement. Supported by my employer Advancement Project, I flew to North Carolina almost weekly from April 2013 to September 2013. I was tired, but I was energized.

What I learned from this experience is you cannot effectively promote something you do not actually embrace. If you believe in something, you’ll stick with it even when the going gets tough. You’ll fly from D.C. to N.C. on a weekly basis for it. It is easy to lay your all on the line once you have a firm belief in the issue in which you’re involved.

I’ve shared my tip for being relentless. If I’ve overlooked anything, kindly share in the comments section. And if you like the post, please keep a look out for my forthcoming book on public relations, A Media Marvel, which will be released in March 2017.

Trigger Warnings Are Necessary, But Insufficient

Media Outlets Must Be More Intentional About Ensuring Balanced Coverage of Communities of Color

By Jennifer R. Farmer

I fully appreciate the incredible role of the media. Journalists and the media outlets that employ them must be precise and accurate, while ensuring timely information. In a 24-hour news cycle, they bear a tremendous responsibility. As we cope with police shootings of Black men and violence against police officers, I’m mindful that despite reporters’ best intentions, journalistic coverage can fall short. Among improvements needed, members of the media must be more intentional about ensuring balanced coverage of communities of color. It’s not enough to increase coverage of our communities. The coverage must be holistic, balanced and fair.

Often, media coverage of communities of color is problematic. When African Americans are covered, especially in times of crisis and during instances of police or anti-Black violence, media coverage is often laced with weak language, problematic imagery, insensitive scrutiny and inappropriate characterizations.

In describing the shooting death of Alton Sterling, who was shot at close range by a police officer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, MSNBC host Tamron Hall referred to the killing as an “incident.” Hall was not the only one to use timid language. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards too called it an “incident.” Let’s be clear. An “incident” is a wardrobe malfunction. Perhaps it can describe a small disagreement. But the term is woefully inadequate to describe a police officer mercilessly shooting a civilian at point-blank range.

Separately, the continual broadcasting of videos and pictures of deceased or dying African Americans who are victims of police violence is something short of perverse. While imagery is important, I’m not sure it’s helpful to our emotional well-being to be bombarded with horrific images of human beings in their final moments. Moreover, such imagery is prevalent only when the victims are African American or Latino. When was the last time you turned on the television or scanned the front page of a newspaper and saw white bodies riddled with bullets?

This week alone, media outlets from CNN to the New York Daily News aired or displayed videos and photos of the bodies of African American men who were fatally shot by police. The New York Daily News published pictures of Philando Castile, an African American man with a large pool of blood splattered across an otherwise white t-shirt after he had been shot by police, on the front page of their July 7 paper. The searing image captures Castile as he sits dying in the driver’s seat of a vehicle. The same New York Daily News cover also shows an image of Alton Sterling laying on concrete, again with a large blood stain on his chest, after being fatally shot by Baton Rouge police. The New York Daily News is not alone. CNN has repeatedly broadcast the videos of these and other victims of police violence.

Publishing or broadcasting such imagery appears to be casual fare. A trigger warning, while appropriate, is insufficient.

Even when we aren’t bombarded by harmful imagery, there are other issues with media coverage of communities of color. In the same articles highlighting police brutality and violence, the media often tends to highlight the victims’ mistakes or falls from grace. Increasingly, for African Americans, being a victim of police violence or supposed vigilante violence isn’t a shield from having one’s past highlighted post-mortem. After Ashaunti Butler and Laniya Miller, both 15, and Dominique Battle, 16, drowned in a pond in Pinellas County, police officials held a press conference and displayed the girls’ mugshots. The car the girls’ were in dove into a retention pond as they were being pursued by police. Some speculate police didn’t do enough to save the girls as their car went into the water at 3:00 am and the police dive squad didn’t arrive until after 5:00 am.

The media is often listening to police blotters and may be reporting some of what they are hearing. However, media outlets should be more conscious in the language, imagery and context in which they cover all people, especially during times of national crisis.

In an article on the fatal police shooting of Alton Sterling, CNN included his arrest record and prior convictions. They also went digging for and displayed Sterling’s mugshot. Such a maneuver subtly suggests the victim isn’t worthy of sympathy or perhaps somehow contributed to their own demise. This is unacceptable.

We should challenge harmful, if unintentional, language and coverage when and where we see it. Even as we challenge dehumanizing language and problematic coverage, let’s be clear in our own use of language. Here are a few a tips:

  1. Avoid the Passive Voice. Use Active Voice Instead. When crafting commentary about police violence be sure to use the active voice. Saying a person was shot, leaves no one responsible. Saying “the police shot an innocent civilian…” is more accurate and more powerful.
  2. Utilize Strong, Descriptive Language. Accurate details make your case. For example, “the officer shot him at close range” is more accurate and more forceful than “the officer shot him.”
  3. Humanize the Victim. When writing about police brutality, victims of crime, take care to humanize the victim. You do this by placing them in the context of their family. For instance, in thinking about the killing of Alton Sterling, it’s important that media coverage note he was the father of five. That’s an essential fact about who he was and should be highlighted.
  4. Insist the Media Outlets Call Children “Children” When They are 18 Years of Age or Younger. Too often the media picks up on police language and calls our children young men and women, even when societal standards do not confer that classification. For example, Laniya, Ashaunti and Dominique were sometimes referred to as young women, even though they were in high school. They were girls, not women.

I’ve shared my tips. What are yours?

While I know these tips, and this article, won’t bring back the lives we’ve lost, this is my attempt to cope with the breathtaking violence that occurred this week in Dallas, Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights. Admittedly, thoughts and well wishes aren’t enough. Even in times of crisis, we must continue to demand informed and balanced media coverage.

A Warning for Public Relations Pros in the Wake of #Orlando: Avoid Short Term Victories That Carry Long Term Consequences

Anyone who’s worked in communications and public relations (PR) for any length of time knows the fast eat the slow. There are tremendous benefits to getting your story out before your competitor does. It ensures your perspective is included in media segments and stories, and positions you and your clients as leaders in your respective field.

In the world of media, this phenomenon is similar to ‘news-jacking.’ The idea is to attach ones issue to issues currently in the news cycle. This increases the likelihood of coverage by ensuring one’s topic is timely and relevant.

But there are limits to this approach. There are times when news-jacking simply doesn’t work. Terror attacks and mass tragedies are fine examples. During times of crisis, standard communications tactics and strategies must be carefully evaluated. For instance, in normal circumstances, speed is the name of the game. In times of crisis, caution is warranted. As dutiful PR professionals, we’ll want to beat the other gals to the punch. However, it’s important to be thoughtful as well. One public relations firm is learning this the hard way. Following the June 12 tragic massacre of Latinx, African American and LGBTQ patrons of the Pulse night club in Orlando, Fla., Ascot Media Group, allegedly sent an ill-timed and insensitive press release and pitch promoting a book that is two years old. More than 100 people were killed or injured following Omar Mateen’s hate-inspired terror attack. Perhaps you can see why promoting a book on the backs of murder victims, just days after a horrific mass shooting could be called insensitive and exploitative.

After reading their pitch, I am offering this essay on best practices for communications following a tragedy such as a mass shooting. Here’s my recommendation for being effective in advocacy and public relations:

1. Just Say No: in the aftermath of a tragedy, utilizing that tragedy for personal gain in any way is unacceptably tactless. Even after several weeks have passed, I’m not sure it’s ever acceptable to connect a crisis to an ‘ask’ that will benefit you or your client financially. Just say no.

  1. Seek Counsel: even if an idea seems palpable to you, test the idea with colleagues, close friends and family. There have been many times when I’ve had what I thought was a winning idea only to have the concept shredded to pieces after sharing it with others. No, I’ve never tried to profit off of another person’s pain, but like most public relations professionals who’ve been in the business for some time, I’ve had other bad ideas. Had I proceeded without counsel, I would have missed valuable insight, and possibly hurt my or my organization’s brand.
  2. Think Carefully About the Mode of Media: if you are hoping to pitch an idea that is tied to a sensitive or controversial matter, test the idea with members of the media with whom you have a close relationship. This will allow you to get feedback from a small group of people who know you and your character. Moreover, think carefully about the most appropriate media platform. Following a crisis, it’s one thing to pitch yourself as an expert on TV to discuss the crisis or offer thought leadership on ways to move forward. It’s something entirely different to pitch a tangible product which would benefit you financially. The former is offered for the benefit of the whole. The latter seems self-serving and insensitive. In other words, if you plan to use a crisis as a launching pad to contribute thought leadership, it’s probably fine to proceed. Reconsider, however, if you are peddling a product. 5. Think Long Term: A solid communications plan should involve short and long term strategies and tactics. While we all want to land quick victories, it’s important to have a long-range approach. It’s pointless to land a short term victory that carries long term consequences. In this case, the public relations firm may have landed a few press hits, but what did they lose in capitalizing on the death of over a hundred innocent victims? If a press strategy will bring short term victories but compromise one’s brand long-term, it should be avoided.

These are my tips for navigating public relations during times of crisis. What are yours?

#SayTheirNames: Remembering Ashaunti, Laniya and Dominique

By Jennifer Farmer

Ashaunti Butler and Laniya Miller, both 15, and Dominique Battle, 16, died on Thursday, March 31 when the car they were in dove into a retention pond near a cemetery in Pinellas County, Fla. News reports allege the girls stole the car and were fleeing police shortly before their death. While they may have made a mistake, they should not be criminalized.

In a world filled with racism, classism and privilege, it can be hard for some to see the girls’ vulnerability. Shortly after mentioning their deaths, many news stories mention the girls’ prior stumbles, including run-ins with law enforcement. All kids make mistakes. It’s part of growing up. For children of color however, the media sometimes attempts to make mistakes signs of deeper, pathological issues rather than a cry for help, or a rite of passage into adulthood.

In news reports about the girls, there appears no hint of the role of redemption and second chances. These girls were human beings and they should be mourned as such. In trying to make sense of the tragedy, we should look at broader forces at play.

By all accounts, Pinellas County appears to be rife with discrimination, especially for Black school-age children. In December 2015, the Tampa Bay Times found that due to school closures and policy changes in predominantly African-American and poor neighborhoods, Black children in Pinellas County were often locked out of educational opportunities. More recently, in April of this year, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights opened a civil rights investigation into the Pinellas County School District over whether the district systematically discriminates against Black children. Of course this speaks to possibly only one aspect of the girls’ lives. We have no window into other areas of their existence.

Yet, I mourn for them because they lost their lives at such young ages. They didn’t have a chance to explain their decisions. I cry for them because the media may never see young Black girls as victims deserving of mercy, but rather as spectacles deserving of scrutiny. I cry for them because their parents will never know what it’s like to watch them graduate, watch them turn the corner from teens to young women or witness them exchange sacred marriage vows.

I cry for them because some will never know, never care to know, their story. You and I have a choice. I hope we choose to #saytheirnames.