Monday, November 16, 2009

Say please!

One of the many things I love about PR is the way it can undergo sea-changes on the surface, without ever changing the fundamentals at its heart.

Public relations is about making connections with audiences, and building actual relationships. That doesn't mean finding the best soapbox from which to deliver loud speeches about your own qualities; it's about listening as well as talking, finding out what your audiences need and want, and then tailoring your offerings accordingly.

I tell my students to think of good PR like a marriage; extolling your own virtues will only help you for so long if you refuse to pick up your socks. It's an actual give-and-take, not just the illusion of one.

A decade ago, there was a translator in the middle of most PR "marriages." PR practitioners spent much of their time strategizing how to get through the "gatekeepers;" or, the people who stood between an organization and its audiences (most often, the mainstream media). The "gatekeepers" decided who the people got to listen to, and organizations' (and their PR folks') own abilities to reach their audiences directly were relatively limited, especially when those audiences were geographically diverse.

Today, the web 2.0 world has given PR and its clients the ability to talk to our own audiences. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter. YouTube and blogs, which allow organizations to interact directly with the people who make up their audiences (with and without everyone else listening in), give us unprecedented reach -- and a PR model much more faithful to the fundamentals of relationship-building than what we've been seeing since the rise of mainstream media in the 20th century.

Today's PR: just like Grandma's?

No... but kinda, yes.

While technology makes us more efficient at finding, understanding, and reaching our audiences, and the tools and techniques of our profession are undergoing enormous change, the fundamentals of good PR remain constant.

Be honest.
Be nice.
Be fair.
Be thoughtful.
Anticipate others' needs and try to address them.
Make it easy for people to have a relationship with you.

In a discussion about persuasive brochures in the PR major class this week, Sarah Lund shared the fact that her mother had once completed a 40-minute opinion research survey which she had planned not to complete, once she noticed that the survey brochure said "please" when it asked for her participation.

She wasn't going to, and then she did. Just because the copy said "please."

Now, while Sarah's Mum may not be part of the Twitter generation, I'd bet that her instincts are shared by members of all demographics. While the more selfish among us might not be persuaded by one word to give up a chunk of valuable time, most do respond positively to simple respect and consideration.

Twenty-first century technology gives us powerful tools to help us build relationships with our audiences, but people are still people. The technology and tools have changed; the fundamentals of enduring relationships have not.

With all the potential of 21st century technology at our fingertips, it's worth remembering that manners can be powerful persuaders.


  1. It's amazing to see how much, yet so little, can change. I wonder what other evolutions in technology are still to come. A few years ago I wouldn't have even imagined a PR outlet such as Twitter.

  2. You're so right! And the rate of change is nothing but an advantage to you and your classmates, as you'll be more competitive in the job market than others who may have graduated from college a few years ago and may not be as aware of how to use these new tools strategically.