Managing expectations – Christmas lesson for PR

expectWhat are you expecting from Christmas? Peace on Earth? Goodwill to all men (and women)? A White Christmas, with snow that is deep and crisp and even? Santa dropping all the presents you wish for down the chimney? Love at first sight and happy ever after romance at the Christmas party?

It is the time of year when it is easy to over-promise ourselves what Christmas will bring. This leads to stress and disappointment – or maybe we anticipate that in advance. For some, there’s nothing to look forward towards as Christmas may mean time alone whilst there is an impression of everyone else having the most Wonderful Life.

Even if we have a great Christmas lined up, the January blues are on the horizon, especially if we’ve spent out in planning a magical holiday period.

What has all this to do with PR? Well it’s not unknown in PR for practitioners to over-promise the effect of their activities. This is a notable tendency for agencies when pitching their ideas, or when PR practitioners set objectives that are not based on robust research. The impact of not achieving what we’ve promised is certainly stress and disappointment – as well as harm to our relationship with clients and our own reputation.

There is a further danger for PR practitioners in over-promising in crisis management. Here the problem comes when we present ourselves as able to resolve any crisis simply by issuing apologies and simple forms of redress. Quite often the problem is more fundamental and no matter of PR glitter can add sparkle to a poor situation.  This is the focus of #5 in my 12 Days of Christmas series of posts.

In 2008 I wrote a post following the disastrous New Forest Lapland venture. Although three years later the organisers were initially convicted, their sentence was over-turned after a jury member had been sending text messages.

That clear case of over-promising a winter wonderland has just been repeated. Apparently a magical world was promised through the website (which has crashed), but the reality was a shambles. Parents took to Twitter and Facebook to complain (social media being a development since the earlier debacle) and although the venture has closed, its organisers are being investigated by the authorities as in the previous case.

Lorenzo Franco, the organiser of Winter Wonderland Milton Keynes, has apologised – and blamed visitors for having too high expectations and social media for spreading negative reports. He is using a willingness to talk to the media as evidence that this was not a scam.

It is interesting that MK Web which has published this detailed Q&A has played a role in hyping “the captivating, festive landscape“. It would appear its promotion of the Winter Wonderland was based on a press release rather than a review or visit to the site.

So perhaps a Christmas less not only for PR but also for the media in managing expectations and not over-promising without any evidence that the carefully crafted words presented a wonderland and not a soggy field of empty dreams.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.