How your disaster can become a PR opportunity

When you operate with a marketing mindset in the course of running your business, even a “disaster” can become a PR opportunity.

And I am not suggesting we view tragedies in a mercenary fashion but rather we are mindful of story potential in the course of life throwing us unexpected events.

In this brief reflection, I will define disaster and PR, and I will share an example of this being put to the test with my weekly podcast project, The Adelaide Show Podcast, last week.

When is a disaster not a disaster?

For the purposes of this article, I am using the term “disaster” as a catch-all for the times when reality diverges from your plans, and even disrupts your normal operational routines.

Imagine you were planning an outdoor showcase of beachwear or picnic accessories and on the day the weather turned gale force and drowned your location with whipping rains.

This is the type of “disaster” I’m talking about and I can imagine waking up that morning with a sense of dread, thinking about all that planning and all that expense that is now gurgling down the drain.

Of course, I would hope I had put a Plan B in place for such things but we know in the rough and tumble of running small to medium enterprises that ideal preparations are not always achieved.

However, with a marketing mindset, we might be able to salvage the event and craft a story.

The marketing mindset and PR opportunity potential

A key thing to remember about marketing is that we must always be aware when something unusual, unexpected, surprising, or remarkable happens.

We know from cognitive science, that our brains spend a lot of time on automatic pilot, only focussing our attention when danger or confusion arises.

Knowing that helps us understand the way the media sector decides on what is classified as “news”.

Journalism is built on the principle that news is either facts or events that someone does not want other people to know, or, man bites dog (a traditional understanding of news in which the opposite of what is expected has taken place).

And this is where PR comes in.

PR is much more than getting your story placed into a third party medium like a newspaper or television station, but for today’s article I AM concentrating on that narrower aspect of the discipline.

This background means the reason many media outlets do not spend time telling your story for you (unless you pay) is because their “news sense” tells them that happy, conventional stories are not stories because they do not grab the attention of their audiences.

Which is why our big summer event being washed away by lashing storms HAS story or PR potential.

The “man bites dog” aspect is the irony of a summer event becoming drenched. Such a story gives a journalist or blogger a chance to focus on the emotional aspect of broken dreams, make a point about global warming, highlight how summer moments should be enjoyed whenever possible because they can be fleeting, etc.

If you are able to let media people know about your hapless plight early on “disaster day”, you might just end up getting coverage for your “event that didn’t happen”.

InDaily and the ghost in the podcast machine

Last week, I set up in Z Ward (on the site of the former Glenside Psychiatric Hospital), to discuss ghosts and the paranormal with Alison Oborn of Adelaide Haunted Horizons, a ghost tour company.

While it was a little “spooky” being in that old building of holding cells late at night with few lights on, the evening went well and we got home safely.

It was only while opening the recording file the following night to edit and publish the interview that I discovered that my two and a half hour audio file had all sound stop at the one hour and 13 minute mark, with the rest of the file showing as “corrupted” and “unplayable”.

We had an audio engineer review the file and nothing of the second half was able to salvaged.

Here is the “man bites dog” bit.

I have been doing this weekly podcast for 205 weeks without any break, and never has anything like this happened before. It begged the question, given the nature of the theme that night: Did something paranormal step in to sabotage our recording? Or was it just coincidence.

I alerted some contacts in the media and InDaily ended up running our story as part of its MediaWeek column last week; The despair of the shrinking newsroom.

So, my Wednesday night of frustration and disappointment, transformed into what one media insider described as “PR gold”.

As a result of that story, new audience members searched out our podcast and listened to that episode.

The lesson from this ordeal: Always be mindful of the “story” aspect of everything that happens in the course of running your business because sometimes it is the embarrassing or disappointing moments that have the most potential for cutting through in this attention span economy.

You can listen to that episode here, just don’t do it at night time when you are alone.


Image: Patrick Patrick in a light painting at Z Ward by Nigel Dobson-Keeffe. All rights reserved.