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What to do when you don’t know what to do: A PR’s guide

We’ve all been there, you’re in a meeting, someone asks you a question and…your mind goes blank. You don’t know what to say, what to do, or how to salvage the situation.

PR professionals are constantly put on the spot – whether in client meetings, journalist interactions or just catching up with your boss – and we don’t always know the answer. So what should you do when you don’t know what to do?

As a Comms Consultant at a London-based PR and SEO agency called TopLine Comms, I specialise in Science PR and Engineering PR. Here’s some tips on dealing with these types of situations.

The client meeting

You’ll obviously always prepare for meetings, but sometimes all the preparation in the world can’t prevent the random questions that clients can throw at you.

If your mind has gone blank, the first thing to do is quickly evaluate whether or not you could answer the question by drawing on some prior knowledge. If not, could you find the answer by quickly looking it up – for example if a client asks what the deadline for an article submission was, could you find the answer in your inbox in the next few minutes? If so, it’s fine to say, ‘one second let me just double check that for you’ and quickly scan your inbox for the answer if you have your laptop handy.

However, if you really don’t know the answer to something and you can’t easily find out, it’s much better to be honest than try and waffle. It’s okay to say you don’t know, but just ensure to emphasise that you will be proactive in finding an answer.

For example, if a client asks ‘is this publication really one we want to be in?’ and you’ve never heard of it, you could say ‘I’m not sure off the top of my head, but after this call I’ll do some research and get back to you.’ This sounds much better than just ‘I don’t know’ by itself.

The journalist phone call

I often pitch technical stories to journalists who ask numerous questions to decide if they are interested. Sometimes these are tough to answer.

To relieve the stress around this, make sure you’re fully prepared before you contact any journalists. Try to pre-empt any questions they may ask and draft some responses.

If they still ask something you don’t know the answer to, follow the same advice as before and be honest, but make it clear you will find out the answer as soon as possible.

The update with your boss

Internal catch-ups are great to make sure everything is up to date across all client accounts. As an Account Lead, I’m always asking members of my team for updates and being asked for updates by my Directors. Some of my clients also work with our sister agency TopLine Film on video projects, so it’s important I’m aware of these updates too.

With PR being a fast-paced industry, it can be difficult to keep every action for every client stored in your head ready to relay off at any time.

This is where schedules and reporting come in. For each client have a status report with a list of ongoing actions and the latest updates that are reviewed weekly. This ensures you always know what’s going on with all your accounts and if you’re ever asked for an update that you can’t remember, you can simply refer back to the schedule.

In conclusion, it’s okay to not know what to do or say. Everyone experiences this. It’s just how you deal with the situation that matters – always be honest and put across that you will be proactive in finding an answer.