Trainer Profile: Isabelle Leonard
Isabelle Leonard is a passionate public relations practitioner whose career has spanned two continents. Specialising in crisis communication, the highlight of Isabelle’s career came in 2006 when she won the European Sabre award. Commonly known as the Oscars of Communication, Isabelle beat four other competitors for the honour. In the past, Isabelle has worked for organisations such as the Guggenheim Museum in New York where she worked on making films for temporary exhibits. One year later she moved back to Brussels and began working for Interel, where she was a senior consultant for international clients. Today, Isabelle owns her own communication firm, Art & Facts, combining her love for public relations with her love of art. Isabelle’s next project will be to move into documentary making – in between giving clients advice on how to construct PR plans of course.
Q: What is the one thing a company in crisis should not do?
A: No matter what, a company should not hide. You must react within 60 minutes. The number one rule of crisis communication is that you react with empathy. Of course it also depends on the crisis but a firm should always aim to react with transparency as well. All of this is meant to show the public and your stakeholders that you are doing something about the situation. In the immediate aftermath of a crisis, you don’t know who or what is responsible but you need to show that you are working to correct a mistake.
Q: How can companies prepare for a crisis before one has happened?
A: It is essential to be prepared before a crisis has happened. Once the crisis is happening, you don’t have time to plan. So before the crisis happens, you should establish an internal plan detailing who does what when something goes wrong. This means knowing who is responsible for answering questions from the press and who is responsible for issuing written statements on your behalf. It is very possible to be prepared for a crisis before one has happened. And if this isn’t enough information I teach a one-day course that includes all of this!
“It’s crucial to have a vision in your communication strategy.”
Q: Why is it important to draft a PR plan?
A: I often notice that communications people write a press release and send it off or have an interview with a media outlet. But they forget why they needed that article, press release, or interview. It’s crucial to have a vision in your communication strategy. When drafting a PR plan, first think about your company and what you are there for. Start by asking: What is the objective of my company? Is it to make money, is it to sell a product, or is it to change a perception? It is then crucial to show how communication will help the company reach its objectives. Every communicative action needs to keep in mind the objectives of the company and help to accomplish that goal.
Q: What is a current PR trend that worries you?
A: One thing that worries me about the future of the public relations industry is how we as communication practitioners are viewed. In many companies, communication is a separate department that exerts little influence on company decisions. I can see this in the people I train. They still consider communication a day-to-day function that does not interact with top-level employees. But communication people need to be involved in strategic decisions and at the right hand of the CEO of the company. Today markets are maturing and more businesses are beginning to understand the impact that communication has on their operations. This is a move in the right direction, but communication people should be moved up in the company hierarchy in my opinion.
Isabelle also teaches a course on Drafting a PR Plan for Clear Europe.