Lex Schoevers: Good Image Takes Years and Can Crumble Overnight

Novinite Insider » INTERVIEW | November 11, 2005, Friday // 00:00
Lex Schoevers: Good Image Takes Years and Can Crumble Overnight A PR manager needs to be very good listener, Lex Schoevers says. Photo by Nadya Kotseva (Sofia News Agency)

International PR ace Lex Schoevers is Director at Hill & Knowton University with more than 30 years of experience in international public relations, strategic counselling and crisis communications.

This month he was in Bulgaria for the first time on the special invitation of M3 Communications College, and showed to a limited number of Bulgarian specialists the new strategies in crisis communications during his lecture "Crisis - A New Opportunity for Success."

Mr Schoevers answered questions of Petya Bondokova


Q: Mr Schoevers, can PR help in absolutely any crisis situation?

A: Yes, I know for sure PR professionals are able to handle a crisis successfully; I'm aware of potential crises in which carefully build reputations were protected and those who handled the incidents were applauded for their effective intervention; by maintaining the licence to operate large sums of money could be saved as well; on the other hand there have been crises in which (deliberate) misinformation was sent out, genuine concern and transparency were absent that lead to considerable financial losses but more severe no trust anymore in the organisation or business, its products and /or services.

Q: What is your main advice on how to overcome a crisis?

A: To be prepared! It is not always possible to prevent a crisis but when you have taken the right steps by asking yourself what can happen, how vulnerable is my organisation, product, production process?

Once that is mapped, you ask yourself the question "what if" and you develop scenarios that deal with these potential incidents; then you make a crisis communication plan in which a crisis team and procedures are the main elements to name a few; finally you simulate what can happen preferably as realistic as possible in order to check the plan made and to train the management and crisis team members selected.

When the crisis hits, it will be unexpected and the first 4 hours will determine how well organized you are; If you are able to come trough credible in that period, chance that you do well during the rest of the crisis is high!

Q: What was the most difficult situation you had to deal with during your practice?

A: The most difficult issue is when management and crisis team argue about the situation arisen, the doubt of what to do develops and one has not a good sense of what the public/audiences/media expect.

Q: Speed, experience or else - what is the key to resolving a crisis?

A: It is a combination of the two, but in addition leadership is crucial and not to forget third party endorsement: (independent) allies that help you clarify your position. Interventions should be guided by the principle of: concern, action and perspective.

Q: Do you think crisis management is the most difficult PR task?

A: It certainly should not be practices by inexperienced people, not on the consultant side and not on the organisations side. The difficulty is the lack of time, lack of information and organisation and you need skilled practicians who know how the media work and what the public opinion expects.

Q: How would you describe a good PR manager?

A: Being able to lead, to be perceived as genuine and credible in the way she/he operates and a very good listener.

Q: Men or women make better PR professionals?

A: I have seen as many good women as men in this profession; women tend to have more empathy than men, which helps in analysing complex questions.

Q: Is journalism experience necessary for a good PR officer?

A: It is not absolutely necessary but knowing the media in and out for sure helps; as PR started to deal with information to the media and largely still does, understanding what a journalist wants is of crucial importance to bring a message across to your audience successfully.

Q: What are the most common mistakes in PR?

A: Not understanding how a politician, government or business is perceived by the audience, i.e. general public, consumer or media; Trying to dictate what the public has to think of you instead of realising a good image will take years and can be spoiled overnight due to bad communications.

Q: What is the first thing you teach to young PR beginners?

A: "Effective counselling begins with listening."

Q: How has PR changed your life?

A: In my long career as mostly a consultant and later as manager in Hill & Knowlton, the most satisfying aspect was "making it work" together with teams and individuals, all coming from different countries, having distinctive cultures.

Though in most cases complex the joy of operating as one team with the same objective: building success for your client!

As a human being it is a great challenge to be part of such a scene.

Secondly, when you grow older experience is there to pass on and teaching and inspiring starters is a grateful task; that they on their turn inspire me to continue. As Dean of the Hill & Knowlton College I see so many young professionals growing successfully in their job.

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