Entrepreneur and former Dragon James Caan has been much in the news this week for his rather inept start to his new role fronting the Government’s Opening Doors campaign. I think there are some lessons for those of us thinking of using PR to promote our businesses or our message.
The scheme that Mr. Caan is promoting is aimed at creating work experience opportunities for young people especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is a laudable scheme and I hope that business will get behind it but I fear Mr. Caan’s first attempts to promote the scheme were a PR disaster.
PR Disaster Number 1
Appearing on Radio 4’s Today programme on June 4th Mr. Caan suggested that parents should back off helping their kids to get work placements and he singled out those parents of ‘privileged’ kids who had been to private school and had all the advantages. I saw red! My kids have been to private school because we made sacrifices so that they could. My husband went to a secondary modern school and then a rather poor comprehensive and spent years of his adult life working towards the qualifications that enabled him to get the job that has allowed us the ‘privilege’ of paying for our kids to go to good schools. We didn’t want them to struggle like he had.
Most parents will do whatever is within their power to give their kids a good start in life. That is reality. It is unrealistic to think that a parent will not help their own children in order to help others but that is what Mr. Caan appeared to suggest. This was the message that was picked up by the media. During the day it emerged that Mr. Caan’s daughters worked for organisations he either owned or had an interest in! Was this a case of do as I say not as I do?
PR Disaster Number 2
A day later Mr. Caan was back on the Today programme clearly to try to mitigate the previous day’s disaster. Unfortunately he walked into another disaster when it emerged that his younger daughter had had four internships within his own organisations before landing her job in one of those organisations. Somehow I don’t think that anyone would be totally convinced by his claims that the recruitment process had been rigorous. Although he tried hard to get the message out about the scheme his credibility had taken a hammering.
What are the lessons for small business?
PR can be a great tool for business and message promotion but it can be a disaster if not properly handled. So what can we learn?
- We have to remember that we have no control over PR. A journalist or interviewer will make what he or she chooses of the story, that might not be the message we want to convey.
- We need to consider where we might be vulnerable if a journalist wants to do a thorough job on our story.
- Having identified where we might be vulnerable we need to think how we will handle awkward questions. Should we tackle controversy head on? Should we change the angle of the story? Is it wise to go with PR or should we think about paid advertorial instead. (In paid advertorial we have control of the message).
- If things do go wrong we need some expert advice on how best to deal with it. Sometimes letting the story die is better than fanning the flames. Talk to a PR professional with the right experience in your sector and in handling crises.
The launch of this scheme has been overshadowed by the furore around Mr. Caan’s remarks. That is a pity because young people need all the help they can get especially if they don’t have parents who are in a position to help.