Every semester, I give a guest lecture to Eric Chandler’s NYU PR & SM Continuing Education Course. Eric has designed the course to provide his students with practical learning. At the start of the semester, the students are provided with a client (an existing organization) who is looking to launch a PR campaign on social media to promote their product or brand. The students are then split up into groups, called “agencies”, and have to develop a campaign idea which they then pitch to the client on their last day of class. Each semester, the winning agency actually gets their campaign chosen and then implemented and launched by the client company.
The guest lecture that I provide to the class discusses the need for the agencies to conduct a risk assessment as part of their prep work. Within the course we discuss how to conduct a risk assessment, why it’s so important, how to use it to strengthen their pitch to the client and so forth.
Why are campaign-specific risk assessments still so rare?
What astonishes me, is how this practice of conducting a risk assessment for each and every PR and marketing campaign – within the campaign’s initial development stages – is still not something that is commonly practiced.
With the speed at which campaigns can be hijacked and go astray, how can this be?
This most recent promotion for the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, where the turtles are seen jumping out of an exploding building with the release date of September 11th highlighted below the graphic, is the perfect example to showcase the need for a campaign-specific risk assessment. Take a look:
Or what about this ad for British Airways that was released only weeks after Malaysian Airline Flight 370 vanished without a trace:
Even though the British Airways ad was planned months before it was released, there’s still no excuse. I can’t stress it enough. There is an ever-growing need for your team to conduct a risk assessment prior to the launch of any marketing or promotional communication.
How to identify, prevent and plan for the risks associated with your campaigns
Step 1: Start by assessing the risk
Once you’ve established a campaign idea – and before you do any further work on it – sit down with your team and assess the risk. Ask your team:
- What’s the worst thing that can come from this campaign / What’s the worst thing that can happen?
- How can this campaign be misinterpreted in any way?
- Can we potentially cause offence and/or isolate a segment of our market?
- Has a similar campaign been launched before and if so, did it suffer any negative publicity for any reason?
Step 2: Plan for the risk
Once you’ve assessed the risk, determine whether or not the risk outweighs the benefits of the campaign. If it does, on to a new idea. If it doesn’t, then:
- Prevent the preventable risks you’ve brainstormed; and
- Develop a response plan and a response flow chart to use if any of the risks materialize.
In the case of the Ninja Turtles promotional poster, this is the perfect example of an issue that could have been foreseen and prevented, had they taken the time to assess the risk. The solution would have simply been to use a different graphic. Unless of course they did it on purpose for the publicity, in which case all I can say is… tactless (though I’m assuming that it was a foolish mistake, rather than an intentional stunt).
Step 3: Conduct another quick risk assessment before the campaign goes live
A week or so before the campaign goes live, quickly take a look at what’s going on within your community, industry and the world at large. Is there anything going on / or that has happened that presents new risk to your campaign?
This is something that British Airways would have been wise to do before launching the above ad. Yes, they issued an apologetic statement at the time, but the fact of the matter is that the ad was inappropriate and shouldn’t have been released in the first place. You can easily prevent your organization from going through a similar faux pas, by simply stopping to reflect before launching the campaign.
Make a campaign-specific risk assessment mandatory
I’ve provided you with the steps, now it’s up to you to be smart and to make a campaign-specific risk assessment mandatory, whether your marketing and PR team is internal or external. Let me leave you with this last question: Are you smart?
Author of Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World, Melissa Agnes is a leading authority on crisis preparedness, reputation management, and brand protection. Agnes is a coveted keynote speaker, commentator, and advisor to some of today’s leading organizations faced with the greatest risks. Learn more about Melissa and her work here.
Dave Schneider says
I've seen my fair share of PR campaigns completely backfire, especially Twitter hashtag ones. So yeah, definitely need a risk assessment.
Dave at NinjaOutreach
Melissa Agnes says
Far too many. Conducting a risk assessment needs to be a fundamental part of developing communications campaigns. It amazes me that it isn't yet (for most).