While riding the bicycle Monday I accidentally ran over a garter snake who’d picked the wrong time and place to sun himself on the pavement. Rolled back to check on him and damned if the little devil didn’t strike at my tire a couple of times. I can’t blame him for being pissed, as I probably crushed a few of his ribs, not to mention his reptilian pride.
In case you hadn’t noticed, snakes seldom end up as road kill. They’re wily and resilient creatures. Contrast that with possums. They step into harm’s way all the time, freeze when the headlights hit them, then squish!
As I rode on, I thought about how public relations people are a lot more like possums than snakes. If we’re really doing our jobs, we don’t have much choice but to step into the road. There’s no avoiding it. Question is, “Do we survive the encounter or do we become road kill?”
If you practice any form of symmetrical public relations, you have to be willing to step into the road. You can’t be a “yes man.” The responsible and ethical PR professional has to go beyond the role of client advocate and become an advocate for ALL stakeholders — not just customers and investors. When our customers’ objectives conflict with the needs of employees or community, we’ve gotta speak up for the folks who aren’t at the table. Likewise, when the will of our investors conflicts with that of our customers, we’re the ones who pound our fists to ensure balanced relationships. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.
Reflecting back on my own PR career, I bruised my fists quite a few times, usually advocating for publics other than investors and customers. But in doing that, I also believe I had my clients’ long-term interests in mind. I won some of those arguments, but lost a few as well. Somehow I lasted 16 years without becoming management’s road kill.
While our clients will always need advocates, simply being the corporate cheerleader doesn’t bring much to the table. An effective public relations strategy is a balanced public relations strategy from which all parties benefit.
If you don’t get the possum-in-the-road analogy, maybe you need to reflect on your own philosophy of public relations. Or maybe you need to trying stepping in front of a Pontiac and find out what you’re made of.