The PR Advice I Never Thought I’d Give

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By Melissa Libby, President, Melissa Libby & Associates

Back in PR school the professors beat it into our heads: Never, ever, no matter what, should a client respond with “no comment.” And so we dutifully advised our clients accordingly and worked hard to craft carefully worded messages to right a wrong or soften a situation. Every question got a response. Every grievance was taken seriously and equally. Every hater was loved.

Maybe it’s because the Internet has made complaining so much easier. Or maybe, as I suspect, it’s given people the anonymity to lash out in ways they never would in person. But whatever the case, online complaining has reached an all time high and I’ve started advising my clients to ignore it. Advice I never, ever, no matter what, thought I would give.

Don’t get me wrong here. There are still many situations where a response is required and is the professional solution. Perhaps a restaurant server spilled salsa on your favorite jacket and did not offer to have it cleaned. Or your cable guy failed to show up at the scheduled time three days in a row. The provider failed and you deserve a response.

But if you are just irritated because your neighborhood tavern traded out broccoli for green beans on your favorite dish or you don’t like the color of the new cable box and this has caused you to take an hour of your time to post unconstructive, lewd, rude rants on as many websites, user review sites and social media pages as you can? Well, this is a situation we can’t win.

I didn’t come about this decision lightly and it still pains me every single time I give this advice. But answering people who have not tried to handle a minor grievance on their own is seldom fruitful. There is nothing to appease them. In fact, I’ve seen it have the opposite effect. Engaging negativity begets more negativity. So we just let it go. And it goes away.

I have a friend who can carry on a lengthy, detailed conversation while it sounds (to me) like her children are being murdered in the backyard. And then suddenly, an indistinguishable (to me) sound gets her attention and she has to go because little Joey has fallen off the swing again. It’s amazing. And yet, as PR professionals we need to be like my friend, the one who can tell the difference between the attention-seeking noise and the real business need.

Author Bio:  Melissa Libby, President of Melissa Libby & Associates, is among the 48 nationwide PRCG affiliates who have declared October 22, 2013 as Snark Free Day – a day without harsh comments, rude social media posts or sinister sarcasm. Learn more about PRCG’s commitment to a kinder way of communication at SnarkFreeDay.com and encourage others to participate.

One Comment

Julie Dennehy

So, so true… part of being a strategic communicator is to know when/where/how to communicate… even if that means radio silence to those simply craving attention. As the infamous Toni Antonetti (www.prchicago.com) likes to remind me, “Is this the hill you want to die on today?” I keep that in mind when I’m poised to respond to a troll via a client’s social media channels.

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