Paint Your Own Barn
by Frank L. Williams
Over the course of my career, I’ve seen far too many organizations allow a reactive mindset and slow response time to hamper their public relations efforts.
One organization (we’ll call it Company One) was subjected to a barrage of criticism from other organizations that were affected by one of Company One’s decisions and chose to cast blame and point fingers. Company One was slow to respond, and when responses were forthcoming, they were somewhat lengthy and did little to brunt the emotional responses being inflamed by the other organizations’ jabs. As a public relations professional, the most frustrating part about this is that the hits were easy to anticipate. When you can predict that an issue will arise, you should prepare before it does.
Another group I’ve observed (we’ll call it Company Two) dealt with a similarly complex set of issues that affected its brand reputation. This situation involved another entity whose decisions and policies had a dramatic impact on Company Two’s ability to achieve its goals, and the other entity’s actions were diametrically opposed to Company Two’s plans. The general public in Company Two’s community was a key public, and they were being barraged with rumors and misinformation. Company Two was often so engaged in the weeds of managing the crisis that they did not communicate their side of the story to the general public. It is all too easy to get so bogged down in the day-to-day that you don’t look up to see what’s coming your way.
To paraphrase one of my local elected representatives, when it comes to public opinion, if you don’t paint your own barn someone else will do it for you – and you most likely won’t like the result.
If you are an organizational leader, it is critical that you force yourself to take a step back, look at the big picture, and identify the issues that are churning beyond the horizon. When you identify emerging issues ahead of time, you can anticipate how they will affect public opinion and prepare your response in advance.
This requires a strategic perspective and a pro-active mindset, both of which are difficult to adopt when the world is burning down around you. Planning for the crisis before it arrives enables you to paint your own barn. If your barn is attacked by public opinion vandals, don’t hesitate to reach out to a communication professional who can help you repaint it on your own terms.