Five Strategic Public Relations Lessons from Five Year Olds

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In a previous article we explored three lessons in crisis management that three year olds can teach us. While there are significant crisis factors that these children can teach us, there is much to be gleaned from a five-year-old child. Close study reveals how a five year old child has a solid grasp on the basics of good reputation management – without being aware of it. Here are five valuable lessons in public relations that we can learn from observing five year olds:

1. Develop a Thirst for Knowledge

Scenario: Five year olds are naturally curious, repeatedly asking, “How?” and “Why?” These essential questions provide immediate answers to practical problems and help them develop their growing knowledge and understanding of the wider world.

PR lesson: PR is not simply a tick box exercise. Marketing and PR departments need to continuously ask probing questions and stay on top of local, national and international trends, news, and research. Of course accessing and distilling pertinent articles and attending strategy-based industry events are crucial strategies. But beyond that, attending events outside of your particular vertical industry that relate to more global issues such as the overall economic environment and geopolitical risk events can give your company foresight into developing trends and threats and help you generate timely, flexible, and well-informed responses in a changing landscape.

Being a good brand custodian is more than just “doing” PR, marketing, and advertising. You need to fully understand how global and national issues and events can and will impact your company, your employees, your products, goods and services, as well as your clients, their clients, and the industry at large.

In addition to the usual research, cultivate your thirst for knowledge to foster more advanced reputational risk management and business intelligence analysis. Like a five year old, you need to not only gather facts. You also need to interpret them, understand the implications for your company, and then take decisive, well-informed action.

2. Seek New Playgrounds

Scenario: Five year olds enjoy games, backyard adventures, and playing in new and different parks and playgrounds. They seek enjoyment, adventure, and discovery.

PR lesson: With today’s new apps and specialized services, brand custodians and reputation managers are spoiled for choice. They have access to a plethora of solutions designed to spread their brand value proposition across the digital, broadcast, and print-based universes.

However, it’s easy to slip into a dysfunctional comfort zone, to feel too confident that social media, wire distribution, content marketing and traditional PR such as writing news stories, tracking editorial calendars, and pitching interviews will do the job. Of course, these are critical components to the successful growth of a reputation. But brand value can also be retained, defended or grown through avenues other than the media.

Far too often, clients mistakenly rank success by the amount of press coverage or re-Tweets. A successful foray into new territories does not necessarily involve media. Directly engaging current and prospective clients via creative and insightful strategies and tactics that deliver brand awareness and engagement, as a measured result, could prove to be a new and fruitful option.

Prospective clients can interact with the brand directly through spokespeople and established clients. Hosting round table events with clients only, or taking current clients to meet with prospective clients to act as third-party endorsers (case study), can also add significant value. Embarking on a content marketing campaign will also yield significant results if implemented correctly. It is up to the PR consultancy and the company/client to be open to new ideas and venues, and ensure the appropriate strategy is in place, along with realistic expectation management.

3. Identify Key Influencers

Scenario: Five year olds figure out which adults are likely to provide treats, and which adults can be effectively lobbied for clemency after misbehaving.

PR lesson: Identifying key influencers to get your news out is a crucial component to a successful PR strategy. For example, for a cyber security company, key influencers would include cyber security bloggers and consultants, analysts, law firms specializing in cyber security, the technology/information security faculties at leading universities, and the big five strategy-consulting and auditing firms, among others.

To help create full awareness, you need to move beyond standard approaches. Your company’s key influencers can boost awareness of major positive news, explain a particular point of view, and dilute or downplay potentially damaging news. Providing your influencers with in-depth insight on the issues behind the good news will help them continue to position themselves as experts in the field and help you get the word out.

When an unfortunate PR situation arises, you can proactively mitigate the damage by reaching out to key influencers early on, preferably ahead of bad news breaking, to pre-brief them and explain your side of the story with the hope and intent that your influencers will distribute the content provided and/or defend your position in the public domain. You can also reactively brief followers once the news has broken to stem the tide of negative comment.

4. Shout Loudly and Tell Everyone

Scenario: When five year olds experience a big event, they tell as many people as possible – family, friends, teachers, even strangers. They don’t hold back. They go viral!

PR lesson: Your company should seek opportunities to spread your news far and wide. Too often, companies either underestimate the value of their news and hold back, or they overestimate its newsworthiness and send it out indiscriminately to everyone, risking “information fatigue.” When sharing news, you want to carefully select the most appropriate communication channel for both the type and the “weight” of the news.

For example, hard news, such as announcing the sale of a multi-million dollar integrated cybersecurity solution that effectively mitigates a particularly unique risk that has repeatedly challenged the financial services industry should be transmitted by coordinated internal and external communications.

The most crucial aspect of internal communications is timing. News should be disseminated internally to stakeholders so they are aware of unfolding events and not alarmed when stories break in the media or are sent to other external audiences. Internally, a press release can be distributed to all employees, contractors, and partners. Lunchtime briefings, departmental briefings, etc. can strengthen clarity and commitment in the face of media confusion.

Keep in mind that you cannot assume total confidentiality among large groups; in fact, internal communication invariably becomes external communication, so make sure your communication is clear, straightforward, and tailored to minimize misunderstanding and exaggeration. Similarly, the space and time between an internal and external release must not be so great that an employee can forward the news to a media contact ahead of your company spokespeople.

External communication can involve wire distribution, interviews with key business, technology and financial services media, round table discussions, social media dissemination, and editorial calendar opportunities as they arise. Direct incident-specific communication with customers, depending on relevance, may be effective. Personal briefing telephone calls from a C-suite executive to key shareholders and clients can be highly beneficial when the timing is right.

5. Push Boundaries

Scenario: As five year olds develop, they begin to realize that they can assert themselves by pushing boundaries. This includes not accepting “no” for an answer and back talking. While many parents may see this phase as troublesome, in reality it is a critical period in child development.

PR lesson: Once you have a newsworthy story, your PR team should push the boundaries for maximum media exposure and driving word of mouth mentions. While you don’t want them to backtalk to journalists, if your representatives are pitching an idea and it is rebuffed, they must be able to think on their feet. They need to decide whether or not to stand their ground and intensify their pitch, re-angle their pitch, or stand down and move on–all strategic options successfully employed by five year olds.

Naturally, your PR representatives’ relationships with journalists and publications need to be cultivated so that they can withstand the pressure of pushing boundaries. If an opportunity to re-pitch exists, that’s the time to capitalize on the opportunity.

If not, then your representatives need to move on to the next publication with either the same pitch or a modified version, depending on the beat of the journalist they are targeting and the focus of the publication. Part of pushing the boundaries with journalists involves not only knowing when to be assertive and ease them out of their comfort zone; it also involves knowing when to move on to avoid irritating a journalist and damaging or destroying your relationship and credibility.

We can learn a lot from five year olds about public relations. Asking probing questions, branching out into new environments, identifying allies, boldly disseminating information, and breaking through boundaries can help your company build and grow a solid reputation that will pay off for years to come.


 Based in Syracuse, N.Y., Fortress Strategic Communications provides specialized strategic public relations and crisis communications consulting to companies that offer products, services, and solutions designed to manage and mitigate all types of risk. The company is able to draw on a combined 20 years of global experience from its executives in a wide array of vertical markets. For more information please visit:


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