4 ways PR pros can react to tragic events

When a tragedy strikes—such as the mass shooting in Orlando or deaths of Prince, Anton Yelchin and David Bowie—PR tactics can be risky. Here’s a guide to navigating the news.

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After the initial shock wears off, these feelings remain, but another joins them: the desire for answers. We turn on our TVs, read articles and seek expert commentaries. It is a natural response—as well as an essential role of communicators.

Under normal circumstances, if the news reflected a topic related to clients, PR pros would be all over it—pitching experts for commentary and inserting client news. However, when the news is something as devastating as a mass shooting or death of a public figure, offering one’s client for commentary becomes trickier.

I worked for at the U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Margaret Spellings at the time of the Virginia Tech Massacre and represented clients that are experts on substance abuse and suicides, so I learned firsthand that there is a right and wrong way to approach tragedy.

Above all, we on the PR side must provide reporters and producers with something valuable. During a tragedy, responsibility falls on journalists to examine every angle. If you represent a client that can provide crucial insights, you should pitch. Remember, news media members will actively be looking for sources, too—we all have a responsibility to play amidst tragic events.

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