Absolutes in Public Relations

Posted on Sep 07, 2017
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“If having kids has taught me anything, it’s that science is actually pretty easy. Atoms and molecules obey scientific laws; they don’t have minds of their own.”

I laughed out loud when I read this in an email from my colleague because I often say I like dealing with science because at least it has some absolutes, unlike dealing with people!

But when I really think about it, and after more than 16 years working in communication, I believe there are a few absolutes in working with people. On my list:

  • Remembering the individual behind the audience makes your message more effective
  • Authenticity is the fastest way to trust
  • Graciousness is never the wrong choice

The Individual

The very core of public relations is a “sender” figuring out how to deliver a message to a “receiver” in such a way that it causes the “receiver” to act in the way the “sender” desires.

That’s all very clinical and sanitary. But it doesn’t consider that we are dealing with individuals who have their own ethos and belief systems, even within various homogeneous (from a demographic perspective) audience group. Sometimes as PR folks, and the people who hire us, our enthusiasm for X (project, technology, etc.) is so bold and we simply can’t see how someone wouldn’t agree.

And, once we determine someone has an opinion different from ours, we tend to toss them into the category of “other” and dismiss anything they say.

Yet, repeatedly my experience has been when I remember the person with a divergent viewpoint is still a whole person with valid thoughts and opinions and I try to get to know them, I find we have a fair bit in common. And, this common ground can be used to forge a respectful relationship.

I am not Pollyanna. I work extensively in resource development and in the introduction of new technology, which can be controversial. The two sides are usually far apart, but dealing with the “individual” consistently has better results than simply “othering” them.

Authenticity

Research indicates corporations are very low on any sort of trust barometer. And it makes sense; they are large, autonomous, unfeeling entities.

However, corporations are also made up of real people. And usually, these are good people with unique skills and real feelings. When these people are permitted (from a corporate level) and chosen (from a personal level) to act authentically (to communicate with feeling, to be understanding and empathetic, to display personal values), trust builds much more rapidly.

I am a firm believer in developing corporate messaging. To have a corporate story and to have each person deliver that story. But I do not think this flies in the face of authenticity. Instead, it offers a foundation on which you can authentically communicate on behalf of the company. (And if your company’s “story” doesn’t feel good to you, it might be time to consider you are working for the wrong organization!)

Graciousness

Merriam Webster tells me ‘graciousness’ is defined as “tact and delicacy”. Which, of course, your PR advisor is always going to suggest you use.

But for me, graciousness isn’t about forcing myself, or my clients to “be nice”. It’s a genuine way of dealing with people that allows them their opportunity to express themselves and gives them dignity. Graciousness takes time and oodles of patience. And it sometimes flies in the face of timelines, deadlines and other corporate wishes.

But I regularly find that authenticity paired with graciousness gets me further with my audience (group and individual) than any sort of clinical, corporate behavior.

As I write this, I know these PR absolutes are simple and even common sense, but when I find myself or my clients tied up in high-pressure, high-stakes situations, they tend to be anything but, so I find the reminder helpful.

These absolutes provide the foundation on which I offer advice to our STEM industry clients. If they resonate with you, give me a bell and perhaps we can work together too.

By

Megan Helmer

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