We all know successful public relations builds a positive perception for a person or company. It’s the textbook definition. But to achieve positive media, employee and community relations oftentimes requires the ability to anticipate, look around the corner and consider risk.

Skilled PR professionals can analyze a situation thoroughly and intuitively. They are ready for the curveball question from a reporter or the potential impact of a CEO’s answer to an employee question during a town hall. They can help a client decide if it’s better to make a statement or say nothing to the press.

Public relations can serve as your company's defensive tackle. (Featured Image)

If you work in PR, you probably remember the first time you were burned when you didn’t thoroughly prepare – that “Oh, crap!” moment when a reporter asks an unanticipated, tough question or the CEO tries to be funny and unknowingly offends a group of people.

It’s a challenge to know all, be all and prepare all when juggling different tasks each day, and the job descriptions of today’s PR and communications professionals can be blurry. One hour you may be writing a speech and the next hour you may be monitoring social media. The next day you’re e-mail pitching a positive story to a trade publication and two hours later you are taking reporters’ calls about a crisis situation while simultaneously editing the employee newsletter.

What remains steadfast for PR pros is the need to be a life-long learner, have a true interest in current events, be culturally sensitive and be truly skilled in determining perception. Of course, PR professionals must be flexible and creative – but good ones are always a bit skeptical.

Defensive Pessimism

Maybe skepticism in PR is better defined as defensive pessimism. Always assuming goodwill is not the personality trait that gets a client out of hot water for a public gaffe or make the community’s displeasure with a company go away.

Someone trained to be optimistic all the time probably isn’t going to think through what a reporter’s angle might be on a story. Or consider what could result in negative publicity. Or prepare the client to answer a tough question without giving away proprietary information. Or consider how people could react to the words that are spoken or written.

PR pros are there to guide the conversation while understanding competing priorities. They prepare clients for media interviews, create the most appropriate messaging in a crisis situation and ghost-write speeches and communications to deflate difficult situations. They act as salespeople when pitching a client, article or topic to an editor. They know when to talk to the media and when not to talk to the media. Good PR people know how to balance the priorities of those giving the messages and those receiving the message.

Match the Mindset to the Situation

The best PR pros match their mindset to the situation, but it takes practice to avoid being paralyzed by the “what ifs” when preparing for what could be asked, interpreted or assumed. Thinking about what could go wrong to avoid setbacks needs to be followed by timely action. It takes practice. And sometimes it takes guts.

Yes, research has shown that optimism can improve our health and outlook on life. But PR professionals are often tasked with fixing problems or helping avoid potential problems, and the ability to balance optimism with defensive pessimism is essential. When faced with a challenge, it’s important to have a good defensive tackle as part of your team.