Using general terms, counseling in PR refers to how we communicate with our clients. More specifically, counseling is a recommended course of action that will serve the client’s short and/or long term goals, suggesting a modification or change in the client’s current communications stance, actions or organization based on an event or a change in an external audience.
It is imperative that clients view their PR consultants as a strategic partner, and a very effective way to get them to do this, is to offer well-thought through strategic counsel.
When is specific counsel required?
Situations in which a client might require specific counsel include serious perception problems; not moving products rapidly enough; seeking to expand into new markets; threatened with takeover, lawsuit or investigation; competition is making significant inroads; reputation has been damaged; accused of polluting the environment; pioneered new technology and ready to go to market; etc.
The Counseling Recommendation:
In every case, PR consultants should offer strategic thinking, programmes and services custom-designed to help the specific needs of the client, whose requirements may be urgent.
Always remember that your expertise is in the field of public relations and that counseling should stem from this viewpoint. There might be legal, financial, and “corporate culture” considerations (including emotional and personal), or potential government and regulatory angles. You must be aware of these and take them into account, but your focus is always on the communications aspects.
Your recommendation must consider how every affected audience will perceive the action, whether that perception is correct, and the degree to which it can be influenced by communications. There is an “upside” and a “downside” to every recommendation; you are not doing your job if you do not spell out both of these.
Counseling works best when:
Finally, make sure the client recognizes that there is no “iron curtain” between audiences, i.e.,1) what the client says to one audience is available to all audiences, 2) what the client says must coincide with the facts, and 3) what is said must be aligned with the overall communications effort.
Always ask questions and clarify anything you don’t understand. You must have all the facts (even if that means independent research) and you also must understand the management’s view of the situation if you are to make intelligent recommendations.
How it works:
A good counseling recommendation should include:
The Counseling Letter:
What if a client for whom you are working in one area has a crisis or problem, but hasn’t included you in that situation?
If the crisis or problem affects the area in which you are working, it needs to be called to the client’s attention and a dialogue should be opened to possibly include you. If the crisis or problem is in an entirely different area, then a “counseling letter” may be a good tactic for you. The letter should let the client know that:
If you are doing your work well and the counseling letter has impact, you may even expand your business with the client. At worst, the client will probably feel that you are “on their side” and might be a future resource.