How PRs can learn from the past to handle present (and future) crises

Written by Eleanor Willock

By Eleanor Willock, Head of Mantis PR.

I got dumped once. It was for the right reasons, thankfully by the wrong partner. Only one thing about the experience changed my future behaviour. I never wanted to experience the shock, the upset, or the long walk from Clapham to Balham ever again, snivelling into my pink pashmina (this sentence, FYI, segments my age and my career choice and my preferences better than Facebook ever could). It gave me a benchmark for ‘never again, in that way’.

It is good to be a context thinker

Recently, I’ve invested in some life coaching. As part of that, I’ve found out what my strengths really are. The most revelatory thing is that one of them is something I have always considered a personality defect – I look at the past a lot to help me make decisions. Turns out, I’m a context thinker. Also turns out, it’s a strength, so I’m standing up for it as what makes me a (statistically, mostly due to longevity and experience, reviews pending) decent PR person.

Outcomes, bloody outcomes eh! The word of the decade if you’re in PR. What outcomes do we want? We decide them together, and we make them happen. Some of us look at these future outcomes and see them, flashing away, in the future that will manifest if we knit together our silk scarf of strategy and tactics to get us there. They start from the ‘how can I help you right now’. Context thinkers look at what’s already happened. If I can understand how things came to be where they are, by looking at how we got to the present, I can give the best possible consultancy on how to get to the future.

The party started a long time ago

Popular philosopher and unfeasibly accurate futurologist Ke$ha once said, in her most seminal work, Tik Tok, “now, the party don’t start till I walk in”. PR people like me believe the party started way before we walked in and that’s where all the best gossip lies.

I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of astounding future-changing tech in my career, but the most honoured I’ve ever felt to have experienced something was when we went to Bletchley Park once. Seeing where Alan Turing began it all, well, it put my passion for tech into context.

Like many, I find some of our digital future a little unsettling. But, using my context strength, I’m inspired to tell more vivid and positive stories about it by looking back at how previous monumental advancements have been handled and received.

Learning from past triumphs and disasters

Now that I view it as a strength, I can see that all around me, there are PR people with these skills, and it’s great. We bring stories to life as if we’re showing somebody around a museum or art gallery, pointing out with enthusiasm the details and the points that we think will amaze. We’re good at managing crises because we learn from the mistakes of the past. We pull out cultural references from the depths to illustrate our ideas. We remember good adverts, campaigns and ways of working and let them inspire our own. We’re not always looking for something new and untested, we’re maybe looking for things that will land perfectly based on the historical likelihood of them landing at all.

And don’t think this is the domain of a certain age like me. A 25-year -old context-based strategist is just as much of an important team member. Nothing makes you wince back to your pashmina swathed Balham nights as much as being asked, ‘Who’s Kate Moss?’ by a colleague. Everybody’s cultural context is vital and strengthens the team. It’s a perfect recipe for an agency that can truly embrace the future, and get those outcomes we all want.

This post originally featured in PRmoment.

Eleanor Willock, Head of Mantis PR

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