The Physics of PR: Newton’s First Law of Crisis Communication

Confession: If I could work in any field other than communication, I’d want to be a physicist. I mean, if there were a fantasy world in which my mathematical clumsiness were not an issue in a field like physics, I would totally be a physicist.

Anyway, I opened up my old physics book from college and while thumbing through it I realized that there actually are some similarities between physics (minus the math) and public relations. So, I’m going to explore the physics of PR from time to time here. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I live to make analogies, so here’s my chance to do that for everyone to see.

First analogy: Newton’s First Law of Motion. Now, if you remember, Newton’s First Law states that any body will tend to stay at rest or maintain a constant velocity until it’s acted upon by another force. So, if you roll a marble across a table, it theoretically could roll forever. It doesn’t because forces of friction and air resistance act upon it. Eventually, it stops, and once it’s stopped, it isn’t going to move again unless something makes it move.

Think about it: That’s crisis communication. As we all know, effective crisis communication begins long before a crisis actually happens. That’s called reputation management. You help create a positive reputation for your organization by maintaining good relationships with stakeholders, being open about your operations, effectively communicating key messages, etc. So, keeping with the example above, your organization is the marble. As you communicate outside of crisis and manage your reputation, you begin rolling your marble and gaining momentum. Theoretically, that momentum could last forever. When your organization experiences a crisis, that’s when the friction and wind resistance begin acting upon your marble. See how it works?

Now here’s the thing: The more momentum you have going into a crisis, the more difficult it is for the crisis to stop your organization’s operations. Remember, not all organizations survive crisis situations. Your existing reputation going into a crisis can help you survive.

So – and I’m not claiming to be a great writer of laws here – we could say that Newton’s First Law of Crisis Communication states that an organization that actively practices reputation management is more likely to maintain its reputation, resist the negative forces of a crisis and maintain its operations than an organization that does not practice good reputation management. Perhaps not the best wording, but I don’t think we need to go so far as to put it to a vote or anything (chuckle).

Many thanks to Khan Academy for a) being awesome and b) teaching the world about so many things. I’ll be relying on Khan Academy for these posts to give more in-depth explanation of the physics concepts. I barely understand the stuff anyway…