The ultimate PRofessional test: Serving as your own crisis communicator (PRofessional Development Week)

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Mar 16, 2009 in Career, PRofessional Development Week, Public Relations |

This is the last post for the PRofessional Development Week series.

This is a guest post by Lindsay Allen, who has worked in Central Michigan University’s Office of Public Relations and Marketing since 2002; she began as a PR writer and has been an assistant director of media relations since 2005. Due to reorganization, she will be laid off beginning May 1 and is in the midst of her first-ever comprehensive job search. Have a job lead or a freelance need? Send Lindsay an e-mail.

In your PR career, you will face crisis communication situations; they come with the territory. While you may be comfortable with and well versed in handling your clients’ crises, there is one crisis for which no PR pro is truly prepared …

When you find out you’re being laid off, the crisis is your own, and you suddenly are both the client and the crisis communicator; it will test your skills and your character more than any other situation you’ll face in your career.

After almost seven years at my job, including nearly four in my current position, I received notice about a week ago that my position and two others in my office will cease to exist in less than six weeks. I’m being laid off.

My initial reaction? Of course, I couldn’t help but tear up as the news was delivered to me. And as soon as I was alone in my office with the door closed, I allowed the emotions to escape before inviting a couple of my closest colleagues in to share a hug and a cry.

Everyone — even a PR pro — deserves some time for grief and emotion upon receiving news of an impending layoff, but it can’t last long, because you need to shift into crisis communicator mode. You have clients to inform, projects to wrap up, colleagues to train and transition, and a job search to conduct. In my case, I received nearly two months’ notice, and I’ve vowed to spend that time being positive and working diligently to serve my clients.

But before you start making those phone calls and tackling everything else, there is something you should do. Taking a cue from one of my clients, the brilliant and positive Sherene McHenry — who had spoken of the value of an “I’m thankful for …” list as a strategy for curbing complaining in my first-ever Wall Street Journal placement, which was published just two days before my layoff notification — I sat down and realistically thought about what I am grateful for, even under less-than-ideal circumstances. My list:

– A supportive family that believes in me and is going to be there for me no matter what happens

– Colleagues and friends who I felt comfortable calling upon for support when I needed it most and who value me as a professional and personal resource and problem solver

– Awesome clients who appreciate my skills and think highly of me as a person and a professional

– A large personal and professional network, both in person and online

– A reputation as a detail-oriented “utility player” and strong writer with diverse skills and education

– Experience working directly with the top executive of an organization and handling sensitive, confidential information with integrity

It’s amazing just how much the act of making this list will affect your outlook and attitude. Because creating my list reminded me that I have so much to be grateful for, I’ve felt confident and optimistic as I’ve shared the news regarding my situation.

And you know what? There’s no substitute for being sincere and positive, which I’ve discovered as my clients and colleagues praise my attitude and offer to serve as references and write letters of recommendation, offer to call up alumni from their departments to seek job opportunities for me and watch for job postings that might interest me, tell me how much I’ll be missed, and in some cases even admit that I’m handling this better than they think they could.

These conversations also have led to lots of very specific, very positive feedback from the clients I have served over the years … and even from journalists with whom I’ve worked! Pay attention during these conversations; you’ll learn new ways to present your strengths to prospective employers, and you may even learn about strengths you might not have realized others saw in you all along.

The ability to find positives in what in many ways is a negative experience, including seeing it as an opportunity rather than an ending; the ability to sincerely communicate positively about what has transpired and about your outlook for the future instead of being angry, bitter and/or mopey; and refusing to let your final days or weeks on the job be a “lame duck” session are all essential if you are to succeed as a crisis communicator during your time of turmoil.

The bottom line: You owe it to yourself to handle your own crisis with the same grace, honesty and dedication with which you’ve always approached your clients’ crises; you are the client now.

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lara Kretler
Mar 17, 2009 at 12:23 pm

This is important advice for PR pros or anyone facing news of a layoff. Lindsay, thanks for being brave and sharing your story. Rachel, thanks for the great blog – keep it up.


[…] Earlier this week, I wrote a guest post for “A Step Ahead,” the PR blog run by former CMU PR and Marketing intern and all-around PR dynamo Rachel Esterline. Check it out: “The ultimate PRofessional test: Serving as your own crisis communicator” […]


[…] The ultimate PRofessional test: Serving as your own crisis communicator by Lindsay M. Allen […]



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