Negotiations and PR campaigns have a lot in common. In both instances, you are attempting to create terms that are attractive enough to result in acceptance, with minimal pushback, from your audience. A public relations campaign, therefore, is in effect, a negotiation between the party creating the message, your client, and the public. For such a campaign to be successful, the right messaging and communication is vital.
A common misconception when delivering sensitive information to an audience is that the only two options for communicating that message are to take a hard or a soft position. According to Fisher and Ury, authors of Getting To Yes, taking a hard position is viewed by the audience as aggressive, abrasive and adversarial. Taking a soft position can be viewed as a way to make concessions in order to gain acceptance at any cost. In both these instances, the communication is centered on a specific position, as opposed to the overall interests of all parties involved. Luckily, there is a third option. Principled negotiation focuses not on a specific position, but instead on interests; the factors that motivate the parties. By taking a step back and looking at interests, a PR campaign can be developed that is focused on conflict management and resolution, as opposed to a campaign focused on winning (which opens the door for a possible loss, and a major PR crisis).
Here are a few other points to remember when creating a principled PR campaign:
Prepare your options
Adequately preparing for a negotiation involves understanding the other party’s point of view. When preparing a PR campaign, it is important to formulate options that would be acceptable to your client and the public. Looking at the situation from the flip side will also help you to determine your non-starters- those ideas that create the most risk of hurting, not helping, your client’s interests.
Keep the focus
Always bring the conversation back within the principled frame. Do not get too focused on details that are insignificant relative to your overall goal and messaging. Using high level messaging, at least in the beginning, can soften hard positions and keep the discussion on track. In particularly sensitive situations, this can be done by a third- party, such as a thought leader who is well respected and would not be seen as simply providing lip service to your client’s agenda.
Highlight past cooperation and future opportunities
Promoting inclusivity is a good way to maintain a positive outlook on your client’s image. Look at ways your client has promoted itself as a good corporate citizen in the past, and highlight their continued plans for the future. This is a good way to promote and encourage goodwill, and could garner support from your audience.
Know your limit and be prepared
Sometimes, even the most thought-out PR campaigns do not work out as intended. Having a thorough understanding of your client’s threshold will allow you to create a crisis plan for the worst-case scenario. Though this is not ideal, having a clear understanding of where to draw the line can allow for flexibility and in some cases, creative problem solving in the eleventh hour.