One man’s ceiling

As Paul Simon sang, one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor. In other words, people look at things differently depending on their perspective.

That’s obvious in politics, where a positive term like investment becomes something negative to someone else. Or where an end of life conversation with your doctor becomes a death panel and educating people about a serious problem like childhood obesity becomes something sinister.

This failure to communicate also happens in relationships. Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, right? The fact is, if you don’t trust someone you are going to be skeptical about their motives. Which brings me to my point.

A friend who works for another PR firm was telling me about a frustrating client that consistently challenged him. The client questioned everything my friend did, demanded constant changes and revisions, and made simple projects difficult because the client was certain that my friend didn’t know what he was doing and that the client could do it better. There are two things happening here that make this relationship complicated. One is that this is a typical example of a high maintenance client. Like in When Harry Met Sally, the worst kind of high maintenance client is one that doesn’t know it is high maintenance. The other thing happening here is a serious lack of trust.

The client hired you because of your expertise but now doubts your judgment. Is this an insecure client or are you not working hard enough to earn their trust? Are you not meeting the client’s expectations or are the client’s expectations not realistic? Perhaps it is a little of both, but is this a problem that can be solved? And are you willing to put in the effort to make it possible?

Effective communication takes patience and trust. Both sides need to be willing to see things from the other’s perspective. Both need to acknowledge that there is a problem and agree to work together to find a solution. Both need to be open to compromise.

Reasonable people can make reasonable decisions when there is a good reason. For my friend, the reason has to start with the fact that this is an important client that the firm wants to keep. For the client, it needs to start with remembering why it hired the PR firm in the first place, because it had the talent, experience and track record to help the client succeed.    

It may be that the firm and the client would be better off parting ways. Some things just are not meant to be. But if the relationship is important enough they will take the necessary steps to cross the bridge dividing them and meet each other half way.

Are you willing to look at things differently, or is the effort not worth the trouble? One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor. Or as Dylan said, I’ll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours. 

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As Leigh Rubin, the artist behind Rubes Cartoons expressed in a humorous cartoon revision of Newton’s Law,  “What goes up must come down, except for health insurance premiums.”

That essential law of gravity is very apparent during a crisis. Just ask the owners of the New York Mets, who are facing a $1 billion lawsuit that claims they illegally profited from Bernie Madoff’s investments just two years after New York celebrated them for opening the Mets new stadium, Citi Field.  Or as Hosni Mubarak might say, “don’t ask.” Anytime you are being burned in effigy you have a major problem on your hands.

To everything there is a season and you never know when the tide will turn. Crises come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. They can be serious and drawn out, like the BP oil spill. Or they can be less serious and shorter-term like a negative TV story. It can make you look bad but it usually doesn’t make you lose you shirt or your life.

The most important thing you can do to manage a crisis is to prepare for it ahead of time. That means having a plan in place that anticipates what could happen and how you would deal with it if it does. Unfortunately, most organizations don’t plan ahead. They wait until the investigative reporter ambushes them in the parking lot before they contact a PR firm to put out the fire. That may ultimately save the building but not your prized possessions.

It may not be possible to manage a crisis without damage to your reputation, but you can minimize the impact and the recovery process by planning ahead and taking the following steps:
  • Gather your team and determine what kinds of potential situations can harm your reputation. Identify everything from a tornado to a disgruntled employee going to the press, to workplace domestic violence, to an angry customer talking about you on Facebook.
  • Talk about how you would handle each situation. What resources would you need? Who would be your spokesperson? What stakeholder groups would you need to contact? How would your team communicate both internally and externally?
  • Draft a plan that outlines these scenarios, assigns responsibilities and designates the steps you would take in each situation.
  • Make sure that top management signs off on the plan and buys into it. It is critical that they take it seriously.  
  • Organize drills to help you practice these steps so that if a real crisis happens you will feel prepared and ready to handle it.

Don’t wait until the hounds are at your door to call for reinforcements.  Plan ahead so when the ball comes down you’ll be ready to catch it. Like the Boy Scouts, always be prepared. You may not always escape injury but you will surely improve your odds of survival.
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