The United States finds itself on the brink of war. And if war comes, there are professional challenges that will come with it.
During the week of Sept. 11, 2002, I asked readers if they would go about business as usual. The responses were evenly split. Some readers said they would not pitch stories on the 11th. Others said they’d go about business like any other day. Now I have to ask another question: If a war between the U.S. and Iraq breaks out, what will you do?
If military action occurs, is it a good time to pick up the phone and pitch stories? I suggest gauging reaction for at least twenty-four hours. There’s no telling what will happen. Will Iraq strike Israel? Will terrorists use the opportunity to make attacks in the U.S. or other areas? Will there be broad support or condemnation for one side or the other? It will take at least a day, probably more, to figure these questions out. But consider this: Whatever you have to say on the day war breaks out, it’s not going to get noticed. And that, from the perspective of this newsletter, is the only important thing to remember.
The media in a time of war is all about war. Business writers report on how the war affects the markets. Sports writers report on how the war affects the sports world. The weather forecasters will be showing maps of high pressure systems over Iraq. And the local beat reporters will be seeking out interviews with people who have relatives serving in the armed forces. The media in a time of war is ultimately very predictable. Not only is the media predictable, the media becomes the focal point of the world because it is the messenger for everyone else (CNN was a nothing network before the Gulf War).
If war does break out, call the writer you have the best relationship with and see what’s going on. After Sept. 11 I was told by my editors to concentrate on Sept. 11 related stories. But within days, as the world crept back to normalcy, I was back to reporting about the same subjects I reported on Sept. 10.
But life goes on differently and you have to ask yourself: Is there an opportunity here? There’s always an opportunity for PR, never forget that. But opportunists are easily sniffed out by the media, so you have to be subtle about it.
One thing to remember is that any sign of support or non-support for military action will reflect on your company. What you decide to do, what your politics are, that’s your decision. But remember that whatever public stance you take will affect your company or organization. Jingoism and patriotism are two very different things.
With that said, there are ways to get PR. If an employee of yours is in the National Guard and has been deployed, it may make an interesting story. During World War II I’m sure there were many headlines that said, “Local company supports GIs”. You get the picture. Remember, your company is making a sacrifice by losing a valuable member of the team to protect peace throughout the world (you can use that).
I know there will be stories about companies whose technology and other products are being used by the military. I know this because I’m working on such a story now. Those of us who watched the Gulf War a decade ago will remember how familiar we all became with the terms “Scud missile” and “Patriot missile”. Companies with defense contracts will be getting an enormous amount of attention in the coming weeks and if you’re in that boat, or if you provide services to the military, prepare to stake your claim to a piece of the media pie.
But those of us who aren’t in the defense boat will face an uphill to get media attention during a time of war. Patience will have to be a virtue for your boss, your clients and yourself. In times of crisis, many issues get ignored and while the war machine rumbles, you’ll have to rethink your strategy.
While soldiers prepare for war, so should you. Now is a good time to prepare a longer term PR strategy that puts an emphasis on publications with longer lead times. While you make your pitches this week, ask journalists what happens if war breaks out. Will they still take pitches? Will they concentrate on war issues or will business go on as before? There’s no harm in asking and I suspect writers will be asking these same questions to their editors (producers, etc.).
I can’t predict exactly what will happen to the media. I am confident however that the way PR is done during a war will be different from how we do it now. And as I was writing this President Bush announced that he will ask the United Nations Security Council to make a call on Iraq on Feb. 5. That’s one week from today. You have seven days to prepare for war. Make sure you’re ready to do battle for ink.
The White House Office of Global Communications is the President’s PR machine abroad and last week its role was formalized. “The president believes that better coordination of our international communications will help convey the truth about America and the goals we share with people everywhere. He knows that we need to communicate our policies and values to the world with greater clarity and through dialogue with emerging voices around the globe,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.