The one major problem with burying your head in the sand … it raises your backside in the air. This provides a perfect target for people to start kicking it – and you don’t get to see them coming.

PR is always going to be a balancing act between selling your successes and dealing with your critics and, as channels of communication expand, it’s not just the press you have to woo, it’s also the man in the street – who has access to Facebook, blogs, Twitter etc. Fortunately, the rules of engagement are the same in all cases – stand up, be honest, be open, defend yourself but never get defensive

I use the phrase “rules of engagement” deliberately; engagement is the key. If you’re dealing with public criticism, be it online or in the press …get involved. We are all going to have problems at some point, your aim, in cases where you have no way to defeat the problem, is to come out the other side leaving the impression that you were honest, accepting and working to improve. The idea of a “good loser” is ingrained in the British psyche – you may come out with a bloody nose but if you fight like a gentleman then that’s part of what people will remember.

Engagement is not just about dealing with the negative. Don’t hold back, get out there and proactively engage wherever you can, invite both friend and foe to converse – and do it in public. In the long-term your reputation will be enhanced – and your backside will be much less of a target.

So here’s my top five hints for dealing with PR, from an institutional basis:

1. Engage

Don’t just push your stories, get involved in the conversations, lead the discussions on LinkedIn, talk to your customers on Facebook, comment back on newspaper articles that are online. Make your voice heard as a conversationalist – and that means …

2. Listen

Find out what people are saying about you. Set up social monitoring on the web (it’s easy and cost-free), listen in the bars and on the streets. Mix it with the gossips. Then get back to point 1.

3. Use your people

PR is not a single department; it’s everything and every person in your company. Get them on board and use them to take part in point 1 and point 2.

4. Use your students

Not a phrase you want bandied around in the wrong way … but your students are your best PR – recruit the ambassadors and set them free, make sure the rest are happy and they’ll perform all the PR you need.

5. Promote quality internally

This is a big one; marketing and PR has positive effects on the quality of your institution. Feel the power – and use it to make things better.

Harry Greiner is Head of New Media at City College Norwich