Using a war – or any political situation – as an example to illustrate a point about PR is fraught with peril.
But I’m going to trust your ability to appreciate nuance, and I’m going to move forward with it. Partly because I can’t stop thinking about President Zelenskyy’s interview with David Muir that I watched the night before writing this.
ICYMI, here’s last week’s newsletter with excerpts from PR pros on the ground in Ukraine and their recommendations for how you can help.
Maybe you were more aware of geopolitics and military capabilities than I was, but on that Thursday a couple weeks ago when we woke up to news that Russia was indeed invading, I assumed that Ukraine had no chance to hold them off and that a Russian flag would be flying over Kyiv in a couple days.
That’s because all the news and commentary I had been consuming in the weeks leading up to the invasion said that Russia’s powerful military would roll through overmatched Ukrainian defenders.
But no matter what the media were saying – and the “expert” sources they were quoting – 45 million brave Ukrainians had other ideas. They have literally changed the entire world.
Here’s how this applies to us in PR. I’ve coached many a PR pro who is frustrated by their leadership for holding on to a vision or initiative in the face of media doubt and criticism. In these cases, the PR people believe their role is to advise the CEO that “everyone” believes the organization is wrong and will fail, and therefore should change its approach. (My analogy here would be an imaginary Ukrainian communications leader, well meaning, who might have advised leadership to cut losses and flee to fight another day.)
Many times – probably most times – the PR people turn out to be right. But what if Volodymyr Zelenskyy had listened to the media on this one? What if he agreed that the invasion would succeed in 2-3 days and therefore evacuated to London or something? It would have become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I don’t know what’s going to happen in the coming weeks. I’m keeping my argument narrowly focused on the specific prediction that the war would be lost immediately, and how Zelenskyy, his military, and especially his fearless citizens proved that wrong.
Remember that the next time you’re about to advise your leadership based on your reading of the online sentiment around the issue. Don’t hold back on sharing what others are saying – your leaders deserve an accurate assessment of public and media opinion. But also don’t automatically assume that your organization can’t apply strong leadership and communication principles to change reality.
You and I will likely never have the honor of promoting a cause as righteous and noble as Ukraine’s right now. But when the day comes that your client or organization is being doubted as incapable or overmatched, it’s okay to draw a little inspiration from that proud nation.
This article was originally published on March 9, 2022
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