An Important Basic for the PR Professional—Remembering National Tragedies in Public Relations


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In the coming and recently passed days we’ve seen a lot of different PR firms sending out stories and reports about remembering 9/11. While this type of report is fortunately a rarity, there will always be those few days where everyone stops to think about a devastation that happened to our nation. Along with 9/11 we remember Hurricane Katrina, Columbine, and the shootings at Virginia Tech among others. It is the job of the press to be sure that not only are these historic days not forgotten, but that they are remembered with the right amount of respect and nationalism. With that said, this is virtually the only thing the press needs to be doing during these tough times.

Although it may seem obvious, PR agencies still continue to make rookie mistakes when it comes to expressing their sorrow for the lives lost because of these tragedies. Whether you need a refresher on the basics or you are, in fact, a PR rookie, consider some of these necessities.

Do not publicize free items as a remembrance

It is never a good idea to offer discounts or free gifts on the anniversary of a National disaster. Some may see this as a way to both remember and entice clients and customers to get involved in their business – a kill two birds with one stone type mentality, but quite frankly this is the problem. No free gift or discount is going to make someone feel better about the day’s events, and even if it does, then you are using a national tragedy for your own personal gain.

No need to create any special tokens of remembrance

We unfortunately all remember the pop-up 9/11 coin. For those of you who were lucky enough to miss this fifth year anniversary remembrance, I think the name says it all. This coin not only seemed to mock the day’s events, but it was actually created out of material from the World Trade Centers. While a pop-up coin may be extreme, there is no reason to create any special items of clothing, pins, or even office pens to commemorate the event. This can be seen as disrespectful and not supportive because the event cannot be embodied into something so small.

Do not forget/ignore the issue

On the other end of the spectrum, ignoring the fact that it is the anniversary of 9/11 or another national tragedy is not the answer. While it may seem easier to be on the safe side and not say anything, this will also portray your company negatively. People need to know that you care; it is expected that each company will send out some sort of statement, no matter how large or small, about the anniversary as needed. Paying tribute to 9/11 does not have to be difficult or stressful for a PR department—think about this when you are not ignoring the issue on the country’s mind.

 Never use a tragedy as any sort of comparison with your company. This is not an opportunity to create a metaphor or a witty attention grabber.

This is probably the most common mistake by PR professionals. With something that causes a lot of discussion, it is natural for a PR department to want to capitalize on that to get people interested. This is never a good idea because it makes it seem like the company does not take the tragedy seriously, but rather uses it for their own gain.

Letting the public know that you haven’t forgotten is important, but the public does not need a big production to understand the point. Leave it to the White House to deliver a lasting message to the country, as a PR agency, all you have to do is say, “we remember the day’s events with great sadness.” There can be plenty of implications with a message so simple—let’s just hope that in these days PR firms leave a little room to reflect on our own.

Amanda DiSilvestro is a writer on topics ranging from social media to time and attendance systems. She writes for an online resource that gives advice on topics including time card software to small businesses and entrepreneurs at Business.com.

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