Plan Z

Young boy playing with building blocks

Last week, while walking around downtown NYC with my 5 year old he pointed to one of the taller buildings while we waited to cross the street and asked (in his “I know the answer but I want you to know that I know” voice), “Daddy, do you know what will happen if that building falls down?”

He’s been a bit obsessed (and pessimistic) about meteors hitting the earth since we explained how the dinosaurs became extinct.  So whenever he asks ‘catastrophe questions’ we always try to assure him that whatever it is “isn’t going to happen” (assuming it’s true) and do our best to reassure him we don’t live a world where buildings just fall down or [insert catastrophe here].

After politely informing me that “I know that daddy, but do you know what would happen?” (with snarkitude he inherited from somewhere? [insert snarky-flabbergasted look]) he proceeded to tell me all about how the building would fall and people would have to move out of the way to not be hurt and maybe die (we’ve covered the death topic generally with him already).

Wanting to move off the topic I ‘uh-huh-ed’ and asked him about school which was restarting in a few days (it wasn’t the place or time for a longer conversation).  It was at that point that I happened to look down the street to check for oncoming traffic and realized exactly where we were.  A stark reminder that we do, in fact, live in a world where buildings do fall down.

So, what’s the PR lesson here?  Is there a PR lesson here?  Sure there is – there’s a PR lesson almost everywhere, and here it is…

What’s your Plan Z for your client?  It’s not Plan B – the one you use when the campaign isn’t working or there’s a little bad news.  Plan Z is the one you use when your client discovers their telecom service kills kittens in Switzerland. Yes, I’m going for the thing you can’t anticipate, or more accurately — haven’t yet anticipated.  Some examples…

  • Sports PR – you thought drugs, bar fights, and womanizing were bad – how about some Michael Vick for you?  Did you see that one coming?
  • Corporate / Finance PR pros – Minor scandals – no problem.  How’d Enron treat you?
  • Book publicists – a little plagiarism or questionably sane authors – meh, you have ’em for lunch I’m sure.  Look out – there’s James Frey.  Not only did he do what we know he did, but the man lied to Oprah and didn’t get struck down by lightning — he’s about due so stay clear.

The point – there’s always something worse that you haven’t anticipated.  I’m not saying you need to obsess over this, but always consider, have in the back of your head a ‘Plan Z.’  A plan for the worst possible thing that could happen to your client (or that they could do to bring negative attention).  What’s going to be the next thing out of your mouth after “Who is this?” when the call comes in at 3 a.m.?

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