Frightening PR: Managing scary personalities

Picture this. You’ve just landed a coveted media placement for a client. When you tell them about it, you’re told it’s all wrong.

In another scenario, you give strategic counsel to an executive regarding a concerning situation. It seems like you’re on the same page, but the results are disastrous because the executive put his own spin on it after the fact.

Consider another situation. Your client inserts a joke into a news release. It goes over well in his hometown, but it backfires in a new city, resulting in hundreds of phone calls from potential customers.

Public relations professionals are often called upon to provide counsel. We always advocate for the communications team to have a seat at the executive table, but even then the face of the company – and the person we answer to – is usually not a PR professional. Some business owners are marketing-minded. Some aren’t, and that’s OK. The challenge arises when the client’s personality is so strong it overpowers the message. All three of the above scenarios are a lesson in authenticity and communicating with (and for) big personalities. Let’s dive in.

Authenticity is a two-way street.

In the third case above, hometown media and customers were familiar with the owner. They understood his jokes. In the new market, no one knew him. They had no choice but to take what they heard or read literally. It’s never a good idea to cover up who you are (or who your client is), but it’s crucial that audiences can both understand and appreciate it.

Be authentically appropriate.

Even in a case when the audience understands and appreciates your personality or that of your company or client, your method of communication or circumstances may demand a different approach. Are curse words of no concern in the office? They are on live television. Is a tragedy – like a hurricane or a wildfire – affecting your business? Consider those affected before you speak.

Find a trustworthy third party.

This may be your marketing or public relations employees, or it may be your agency partner. But a third party can help temper or pump up a strong personality when it’s appropriate by applying an outside perspective.

Know when to push back and when to step back.

Just like everyone else, strong personalities need to be challenged sometimes. It can be scary until you’ve gained that person’s trust and built up the confidence in your own work to stand behind it. Still other times, that person may be right. And that can be even more difficult. At that point, it’s time to lean on your team and do the great work you’re capable of. Thus begins the process of building that confidence – for both parties – the next time a challenge arises.

Big personalities can be a hallmark for a company or brand. Think strategically and work smartly to ensure they’re a benefit, not a detriment.