Calm and Courageous Under Fire

Eight guiding principles to tackle any crisis

By Louise Oliver, APR, Peritus PR, and co-written takeaways by the Peritus PR team | March 2021

Like many other public relations professionals, I feel fortunate to serve my calling as a trusted counselor during such a politically and socially charged time. More than ever, companies are turning to communicators for guidance under the weight of heavy decisions and rapidly shifting business environments.

Public relations professionals have been called to help their clients and organizations navigate through unforeseen critical turning points. It seems every day this past year our team received some type of panicked call from a client – social justice, layoffs, relocations, employee morale, acquisitions, canceled plans and even loss of life. As our marathon of guidance in dark days has continued well beyond 2020, we have felt a greater sense of motivation to stretch professionally in new ways.

Although we don’t take this responsibility for granted, I must admit the path forward hasn’t always been easy. During weak moments behind closed doors, I had to actively overcome imposter syndrome and tap into owning my strengths instead of letting the fear of being inadequate or nonessential to the management equation consume me. Those self-doubting moments seem to whisper in my ear during critical decisions, and usually taunt me that I am inexperienced, in over my head and shouldn’t be competing with the major big dogs of our industry who have more experience and unlimited resources. My teammates have faced similar negative complexes based on their own professional background and experiences.

Walking the talk and leaning into my strengths during critical turning points is a muscle that I have had to learn to grow. One of Peritus PR’s priorities this past year was strengthening our skills through professional development, led by a series of dynamic Lunch & Learns from visionary thought leaders who challenged us to grow our strategic role as communicators.

One speaker in particular, Helio Fred Garcia, forever shifted the way I will approach critical decision making. Garcia joined our team for a life-changing conversation to discuss the importance of mental readiness in a crisis. Parallel to this, we dove into a collaborative learning experience by having each team member lead a weekly crisis lesson from his dynamic read, The Agony of Decision. Learning from Garcia has empowered me to be comfortable with my leadership style of remaining calm and courageous under fire.

These moments (with a few breakthrough tears shed during ah-ha moments) taught us an important lesson – our value as public relations counselors during crisis situations is not measured by the loudest voice in the room, or the years of experience under our belt. It’s measured through our mental readiness.

We can’t ask for a seat at the table when the going gets tough, but we can earn it by being mentally ready to lead in a crisis.

On behalf of the other dreamers out there, young and old, experienced and green, the Peritus team wanted to share what it means to own your Mental Readiness (Garcia) during critical crisis moments:

1. Preparation

Embrace your inner planner and take necessary steps ahead of time so that when a crisis hits, you can make the best decisions possible.

2. Curiosity

Invest time into learning from others’ mistakes so you don’t become your own crisis case study one day.

3. Active Listening

Ask smart questions to accurately address the underlying business problem, not the communications symptom.

4. Calm

Make an intentional choice to remain calm and think clearly, regardless of stressful circumstances.

5. Confidence

Have the confidence to recognize your abilities and strengths over your experience on paper.

6. Perspective

Tap into your ability to see an issue from all sides to help identify the real problem.

7. Clarity

Take a step back and weigh outcomes to make the less bad choice even if it is unattractive in the moment (Think short-term pain = long-term gain).

8. Care

Expressing empathy through the lens of others helps ensure you are positioning your issue in the frame a reasonable person would expect you to handle.

Our team has made an effort to actively think through these reminders in every critical turning point to ensure they become instinct in our crisis management approach. We hope these lessons from Garcia’s The Agony of Decision will empower you to tap into your strengths as you navigate future challenges throughout your career. You already have the innate ability to counsel with mental readiness by remaining calm and courageous under fire, and the world needs more communicators leaning into their calling.

Let’s celebrate what makes us unique and play into those strengths so we can continue earning a seat at the management table to connect our communities when they need it most.