The Battle Against Negative Perceptions

11 years, 11 months ago

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Who says you can chuck PR in times of financial crisis? Certainly not Firas Sleem who is convinced that those companies that emerge from the downturn with the least perceptual damage will be best placed to prosper.



Dubai’s decision to establish the Dubai Media Affairs Office ‘Brand Dubai’ in June to coordinate Dubai’s media affairs internationally is a classic example of recognition of the value communications bring to the table. While the new office will work as a platform to project Dubai’s continuing achievements on economic, cultural and social matters, it also demonstrates that Dubai is a great believer in communications as the key to emerge one-up in the current global crisis.

If an entire Emirate can adopt this innovative approach to communications, Arab governments and businesses should made extra efforts to retain their communications personnel because this is the time where they are needed most.

A few years ago, I was called by a headhunter (whom I didn’t know from Adam) offering me a PR position with a private fund. The Aussie girl on the phone who identified herself as a senior recruitment consultant told me I would be on the client side, instead of directing various accounts from an agency side.

I am not sure what value ‘being on the client side’ has in the world of PR today, and I don’t know what packages clients offer PR specialists who would like to be on the client’s side. All I know is that today being with PR agencies is safer, because recent developments have shown that PR men working on the client side are the first to be hit in bearish times.

First out the door

This development underscores an important point. The PR guys on the client side were the first to be given the pink slip when actually they should have been the last to be asked to leave, because they can play a critical role in troubled times. They are the ones who are good at reputation management, which has never been needed more than it is today.

Watch out, businesses! Corporate reputation is the most important issue facing executives in bad times everywhere. What took years to build could be destroyed in a fraction of a second.

Reputation is not about how much a company is giving to the community or how well they treat their customers; it is simply how smartly they can get over a crisis with the least perceptual damage. It is a battle against negative perceptions that have been implanted in people’s minds.
This creates the need to optimize marketing spend but, under no circumstances does this mean cutting down PR budgets, or firing PR professionals.

It also does not imply putting a stop to social initiatives, such as green projects; on the contrary, it calls for intensifying such moves. Because the more you pay back to society, the better image you will project. You will gain the reputation of being a robust business that is well armed to defuse a crisis.

Proof of immunity

Businesses can’t just say "we are immune to the crisis", they need to prove it. Prove it to their customers, shareholders and, most importantly, employees who will then have greater confidence in managing any situation.

Communications professionals stay in constant contact with customers and shareholders in bad times and good times alike, and suggest solutions that can strengthen the marketing strategies. They are the only bunch that can speak a language that everyone appreciates and use terms that every one understands.

On the brighter side, Middle East companies have managed to build a reputation-conscious culture more successfully than many international companies, an indication that we are doing well on the corporate communications level. They use reputation recovery techniques very effectively, starting with the crisis and going all the way until reputational health is restored.

Getting rid of PR persons in times of crises could have a serious effect on a company’s ability to attract PR talent in the future. Take care and nurture your PR guys because only they produce results at times of crises. PR is not just another ‘nice to have’ resource that is welcome only when the going is good. It is most needed when the going is tough.


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The Author

Firas Sleem

Firas Sleem, Director, Virtue PR & Marketing Communications.

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