Is PR About Risk Taking or Risk Management?

risk taking (2)Fairly recently, I was recruited by one of Boston’s leading tech companies for a Director of PR role. I’ve been quite happy with consulting and contracting, but I knew that it was important to at least explore the potential opportunity.  While the role wasn’t the right fit, the interview made for a good discussion point regarding “what PR is.”

During the interview, the first question out of the gate went like this… “Tell me about the biggest risk you’ve taken.”

I was caught off guard. I asked for clarification. This is what I got: “Explain something ‘crazy’ you’ve put out there in terms of PR.”

Interesting question I thought to myself.  I replied by describing a number of creative and unique PR initiatives I led.  Was creative what she really meant?  It seemed that had to be what she was implying, as “crazy” wasn’t necessarily a word I used to describe my professional achievements or the strategic initiatives I’m most proud of.

It was evident that she was disappointed with my response.  She did, in fact, want “crazy.”

Immediately following the interview, I regretted my response.  I should have taken a moment to help educate her and clarify that PR isn’t about putting “crazy” things out there or taking risks.

PR is about creating a strategic communications plan that mitigates risk.

I’m not sure what the expectations were for this role, but it sounded like there was some disconnect from what a Director of PR role should look like in my opinion.

After connecting with the recruiter following the interview, the feedback was that I didn’t exhibit that I was enough of a “risk-taker” and that was what they were looking for.  I was counting my blessings. I think most PR professionals would agree that signing up for a “risk-taking” PR Director position would be setting oneself up for disaster.

While risk-taking may be an important characteristic in entrepreneurship, that is not necessarily the case with PR leadership.

On the other hand, pushing boundaries and experimentation are good traits in PR. And of course, so is creativity.  There’s certainly no harm in trying new approaches and messages, but it’s important that they are executed smartly and strategically.  It’s also okay to be controversial (e.g. disagreeing with a piece of legislation or taking a contrarian view on a highly visible issue), but again this should only be executed if it doesn’t pose a “risk” to the brand image or its leadership.

Often creative and unique PR campaigns are an extension of a larger marketing or social media campaign, and sometimes they can come in the form of a publicity stunt.  We also find that great marketing initiatives can lead to great press (think ALS Ice Bucket Challenge) or in some cases just the opposite (check out this example from Business Insider about a failed movie theater stunt that led to police calls).  The latter case demonstrates that regardless of what team and department the initiative is driven from, the PR or Corporate Communications team should have a seat at the table in the discussion (more on this topic coming soon in another post.)

So the key takeaways?

  1. Risk + PR = Potential harm to a brand: PR is about mitigating risk and not muddying a brand’s image, worrying investors or jeopardizing customer or partner loyalty.
  2. Creativity + PR = A winning combination: There are plenty of ways to be creative and unique – whether it’s a very educational and insightful byline or a big publicity stunt, creative approaches can help achieve results.