PR ideas from a fall

cat-fallAt the end of October I fell down a small flight of stairs at home. As I believe all experiences are learning opportunities particularly for public relations practitioners, I’ve been thinking about the PR ideas I can take from my fall.

First is that it’s not the fall that matters, but how you land. In PR things often don’t go as we expect or plan and we should understand that it is natural to fail, or fall short, in this respect. What counts is the landing and ensuring that isn’t where bigger problems start.

Sometimes in PR we are responsible for managing the landing rather than the fall. A situation, issue or crisis is instigated by a fall. If we land like a cat on all paws, we can nonchalantly dust ourselves down and move on. Or maybe we roll like a stunt performer, enacting our practiced moves as a professional. Or others who empathise with our stumble come to our aid and help us avoid squashing our nose or denting our reputation.

My landing wasn’t elegant. I hit my leg on a plastic packing case although luckily didn’t break it (the container or my leg). So the second PR idea relates to problem avoidance. It didn’t take a risk assessment to know that this box didn’t belong where it was. Maybe not in the league of “an accident waiting to happen” rhetoric, but it definitely should have been upstairs – or maybe downstairs – it had been in-between two flights for so long I can’t actually recall its direction of travel. Such ‘mean-to’ things become invisible after a while, but how many of us as PR practitioners could write a very long list of items that require our attention but aren’t urgent?

Post-tumble, as with any organisation recovering from a reputational fall, I was a bit battered and bruised. This sometimes necessitated pre-emptive communications to explain my increasingly evident damage as the bruises were noticeable shades of black and blue. On other occasions, wearing trousers avoided unnecessary questions.  The third idea to transfer to PR is where honesty is important and when covering up is okay.

Like many experienced PR practitioners, I believe the show must go on. I’m also self-employed so throwing a sickie isn’t easy when you’ve existing commitments. But this evidences a fourth idea for PR practice. There are times when putting yourself first is more important. We have to prioritise the longer term over the short to ensure we can continue to do a better job.

Keeping going soon became impossible and a visit to my osteopath identified a pinched nerve. So my fifth lesson or idea for PR is about knowing when to call on experts. Many organisations rely on a DIY approach to PR or use their in house / consultancy team on a tactical basis. Self-diagnosis and problem resolution can be great but it is no substitute for making use of the expertise of those who are qualified, trained and experienced.

Idea number six relates to recognising there are few (if any) textbook cases. The osteopath felt I had enough symptoms to support his diagnosis but not everything was as expected. Pain and swelling in my lower leg was unusual. My friend said it wobbled like a ballon filled with water. The GP was equally fascinated having never seen anything like it before. But drawing on his general knowledge, he drew a conclusion of fluid remaining from a haematoma.

In PR teaching, I’m often expected to give specific rules, instructions or direction where the reality requires a more reflective and interpretive perspective. Avoiding a fixed view, or jumping to conclusions is PR idea #7. We can, and should, draw on previous knowledge and experience but be aware that things change and need to be monitored with a personalised rather than a generic solution advised.

Idea 8 is that time is an important consideration. In PR we are increasingly urged, especially from a social media viewpoint, to respond immediately. It is all about speed of response say the experts. This can be true also in health matters. But what is really important is knowing when fast is essential and when time is the best healer.

This relates to idea 9 and being mindful of the benefits and limitations of online communications. I resisted setting up a Twitter account, posting Instagram images, a wobble Vine or YouTube video, or Facebook status updates on my leg’s condition. It didn’t need a fan base or community. I do appreciate when online group support is important and getting information online is a modern marvel. But there are potential issues. Finding what is helpful, reliable and authoritative is becoming harder and harder. Also, the world doesn’t need more pointless quirky personal accounts IMHO. And, I don’t need to record every second or incident in my life.

Indeed my final idea (#10) is about the value of time away. I’ve not been responding to digital communications, checking feeds or generating online stuff much over the past weeks. The world hasn’t ended. I’ve not missed much and people have coped without me. In PR we tend to think we are indispensable but stepping away can be equally important. I feel more rested and ready to prioritise what is essential and what doesn’t matter. I also know I juggle too much and have to change this.

In fact, this incident has given me some space to think more and through a conversation with the osteopath about his career decisions, I’ve a new perspective to research and incorporate in my PhD work. As I’m still not fully recovered, I will make the time for this exploration over the next couple of weeks.

BTW if you’re wondering why I’ve selected PR ideas, it is an attempt to link to PRide comes before a fall. I can’t blame pride for my situation but felt I could link to PR as an idea for post-fall blogging!

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

4 thoughts on “PR ideas from a fall”

  1. Yes Terry, I do remember you – how are things with you? Co-incidentally I received an email yesterday about the course and so I’m looking at how I can improve what we did with the inaugural internal communications unit last year. So I will do that for the next run in the Spring and probably have one smaller cohort to look after (rather than the two large ones I had previously which proved a real learning experience for me).

  2. Heather
    Really hope you have recovered and feel dreadful that i wasn’t aware of your plight where I could have been more supportive as a friend.
    As ever, you are remarkable in gaining insight from your experiences.
    I always in my creativity teaching that the mark of the champion is not in never being knocked down but rather your ability to bounce back.
    Boy, you’ve bounced back here wityh some pertinent learnings.
    You inspired to me reflect that there is a deeper learning and lessons from your fall.
    Key things it has highlighted to me are about:
    1. Listening – that outstanding PR and creative people listen to the world around them and also listen not just with their ears; you wwere listenting to your experience, learning and gaining feedback asa result.

    2. Dialogical – your fall and response to it is a wonderful example of dialogical thinking – where you gain knowledge and wisdom not from an expected, planned, or invited source but from an unexpected – and at the time – unwelcome encounter, your fall.

    3. Anti-fragility – you have demonstrated great ‘anti-fragility’ where rather than being either fragile (luckily the leg or box wasn’t broken) nor robust where you can resist certain impacts (although ultimately can be broken) Rather ‘anti-fragility’ as defined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, is where you absorb, grow from any negative or setback in your life, and iun turn become stronger as a result.

    4. Metaphor – your fall is a metaphor, a tool to gain insight and new perspectives. It is opne of the best creativity tools around.

    5. Brand Story narrative – your exploits and adventures on your stairs have created a narrative, seemingly using the ‘Journey and Return’ story-line to give a coherence to both your experience and response to it.

    Thanks for the seriously great lessons here from using your fall as a. And thankfully your fall doesn’t seem to be serious

    1. Andy – thanks for your additional input in extending the lessons in a really helpful way. I like the concept of anti-fragility (and shall research that further) and also the use of metaphor and narrative which are really useful from a constructivist perspective.

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