I’ve done it! I am a student again! If it doesn’t scare you, your goal isn’t big enough as they say. I can fairly say the thought of starting a postgraduate qualification whilst working on a full-time job and volunteering is scary. But I’d been thinking about it, I had to do it.
I have recently seen the industry successfully take a more active lead to communicate and demonstrate the strategic role of PR, and it had a real impact on me. I was particularly excited to discover CIPR’s latest #PRPays campaign. Other recent blogs from my mentors Ella Minty on leadership, Richard Bailey on education and Stuart Bruce on the role of PR resonated in me.
So I’ve decided to start a CIPR Specialist Diploma on crisis communication, taught at Masters level, because I felt it would give me the tools to go beyond the PR technician role and become a trusted PR advisor. I have chosen PR Academy, the largest provider of PR education in the UK, also accredited by CIPR, APM and AMEC.
There are a number of areas I look forward to exploring through this course.
The first one is crisis response. Customers, employees, voters, clients and more broadly stakeholders, are more than ever empowered to get information and express opinions. The reality is that almost all organisations out there are to varying degree surrounded by criticism, whether they like it or not. Nonetheless, as PR advisors, we have got to wonder: is this criticism valid? Should the organisation respond or continue to respond? Can we productively contribute to the conversation? All of these questions are at the heart of what an organisation’s strategy and communication plan. I look forward to learning how to not only advocate for openness, honesty and engagement, but also understanding how those values will serve best in dealing with a crisis.
Another aspect of crisis response that will be interesting to me is the ability to create a response that is personal and human. What I love about the crisis communication scenarios that I’ve read is that there is no easy answer. Everything is done on a case-by-case basis. There is no playbook, and this is all the beauty of it. The successful stories are generally the ones portraying organisations that managed to retain their authentic voice and cut through the noise. I am excited to understand the importance of scenario planning whilst building up adaptation skills and approach challenges in a fluid way.
Risk analysis is another field I will be excited about. My experience in PR measurement and earned media tracking helps me understand the environment certain organisations operate in (e.g. SWOT, PESO analysis). Now, I am ready to explore further and learn to assess business risk associated with certain corporate activities.
One employee is enough to damage the reputation of an entire company, and this can come in relatively different ways, from high-profile CEOs to new recruits. It was interesting to follow Elon Musk’s Twitter rant as Tesla has been at the centre of technology, production and safety criticism. Similarly, social media posts showing inappropriate behaviour or denouncing something happening within an organisation can pose huge issues, as it is regularly the case for global fast food chains with workers sharing distasteful behind-the-scenes photos and videos for example.
There is a real need for organisations to ask themselves if there is more than they should be doing right now and I want to be part of this assessment. If a company at fault stokes controversy, we should learn from our peers’ mistakes and study best case scenarios. Why? Simply because people will ask why we didn’t know better. And finding credible answers is always harder the second time around.