Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Communication: Second-to-None

Any one who has read even just a few of my nearly 1,100 blog entries over the past decade or so should have no doubt figured out pretty quickly that I am a big proponent of communication as a profession, social science and practice. To me, it ranks second-to-none. Let me note that this is no way to minimize or criticize other fields of social science. They, too, remain vital to our growth and ongoing positive evolution toward becoming beings of the highest order. What distinguishes communication, however, is the fact it is our most fundamental of activities. It speaks to our how well we interact with others, how well we put forward our own messages and feelings, and how well we develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of others.

There is not a moment in our days when we do not communicate. It is not a coincidence that the same is true of breathing. Communication is that basic. The challenge is found in how well we communicate. The better or more effectively we communicate the less confusion, stress, anxiousness, misinformation, frustration, and discord there is in our lives. How great is that! This is not to say by communicating well there won't be times of disagreement Don't forget, we are humans and disagree is what we do. Effective communication helps us contend or process those bumpy moments and then, ultimately, address them.

Communication speaks to formulating and putting forward our messages, processing all the information that comes at us every day, and doing the needed due diligence in regard to learning how to compose substantive messages, learning how others prefer to receive messages, and being as knowledgeable as we can regarding subject matter and audience. Granted, none of these points is easy; but the bottom-line benefit is it makes our lives better much more satisfying and enriching. Who doesn't want that?

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Second-to-None

Fun fact: Tchaikovsky's famous 1812 Overture was not written in 1812. The great composer wrote it in 1880 as a tribute to Russia's successful defense against Napoleon and his attempt to invade that country in - you guessed it - 1812. Here's another one: Aunt Jemima, known for her pancake mix owned by the Quaker Oats Company, was not a real person. Aunt Jemima was a character played by Nancy Green, a former slave from Kentucky who served as the inspiration for the character for over 30 years until her death in 1923.

I mention these two tidbits as examples of how all of us at times take things for granted that turn out not to be true. While Tchaikovsky's masterpiece and Quaker Oats' recipe are innocent enough examples, when it comes to communicating, it is vital that our hold on what is true needs to be as lock-sure as possible. Taking something for granted implies a leap of faith or hope that information one is receiving is all that it seems. Successful communication is built on the premise that all that is put forth is labeled correctly. If it is meant to be a fact, then it is labeled as such. If something is merely a guess or opinion, then it should be presented that way. Receivers of information have a responsibility to make sure what they are taking-in is true.

Of course, those who send out information or messages have an equal responsibility. They need to make sure what they impart is properly labeled without any intent to mislead, deceive or confuse. Without question, truth is the most important ingredient when it comes to communication. Senders and receivers of messages and information share in the responsibility of ensuring that truth takes a backseat to nothing. I concede that such a burden is not easy to carry. At the same time, the benefit - like truth itself - is second-to-none. We owe it ourselves as well as to all communicators everywhere. That, of course, includes everyone.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Timely & Timeless

Timely and timeless. Upon first blush, that probably sounds like the name of a law firm. But it is not. Instead, it speaks to the strategies that public relations professionals devise, launch and sustain. Pretty much all communication campaigns are time sensitive. That means outreach efforts need to occur at a certain period of time in order to have even a chance of achieving the maximum return. As a result, the public relations professional creates a set of tactics that may range from press briefings and media advisories to advertisements and social media communiques, all of which follow a specific timeline. This is the timely aspect of their job.

Timeless speaks more to the quality of their work. How well done is it? Does the groundwork launched maintain a level of benefit long after the campaign itself is over? If, in part, a public relations campaign is designed to establish positive ties between publics, then what is the state of that relationship weeks and months after the campaign is over? As is the case with any two people, while they may never interact again, how fond is the memory that each has of the other after they have gone their separate ways? This speaks to the second key element of the public relations professional's job: relationship building.

When the public relations professional roles up his or her sleeve at the outset of any job, their focus must be on the immediate as well as the long term. The PR worker may want to generate a sizable audience for an event their client is sponsoring, but they also want the attendees to have a good time and to think well of the client long after the specific event is over. In other words, the PR worker wants folks to feel good about their choice to support whatever issue or product that is being promoted. Public relations professionals strive for a good return in terms of the immediate and the long-term.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Public Relations Professional

What is a public relations professional? This is a person who is politically-correct. They are sensitive to not offending or alienating any one. Being inclusive is their driving force; gathering as many people as possible to a cause or issue. While they recognize generating 100 per cent support is not realistic, they still strive for that goal knowing they will fall short. They do this by devising specific messages designed to persuade. They do that by getting to know their potential supporters, including what is of most concern to them, what questions they may have, and what choices, if any, they have made in the past.

The public relations professional knows all communication efforts are not about them or who they represent. Their efforts are about "the other guy."  They know that building a bridge between their client and perspective customers or allies can only be done properly by looking beyond their own perspectives. Thus, they are loyal to their clients by gaining as much insight into non-clients as possible. If successful, they know that not only will they generate greater support for that which they represent, they will also create alliances that will likely last beyond a specific campaign. Public relations, they know, is as much about persuasion as it is developing partnerships.

Public relations professionals know the act of communicating is much like walking a tightrope. One misstep can often lead to a breakdown between publics. They respect all efforts to communicate. They hold it to be sacred because they know, much like love, its only chance of lasting is through continuous effort. What works today may not necessarily work tomorrow. The public relations professional may get discouraged but this solider does not give up. Ongoing relationships, they know, are worth fighting for, especially when built on honesty, mutual trust and respect. The public relations professional sees effective communication as being essential to the betterment of mankind.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A Communication Tight Rope

Even if one does not follow politics at all, they would still have to be aware of all the talk these days about the impeachment investigation currently underway regarding President Trump. Rightly or wrongly, not only is it very much underway, it even seems to be picking up momentum with each passing day. My goal here with this entry is not to share my personal view of the merits of the investigation. Instead, my intent is to assess the efforts on both sides of this matter from a public relations perspective. Make no mistake, players on both sides of this debate are very much caught up in a public relations battle.

The primary objective of Trump's defenders and accusers is to rally as many supporters to their point of view as possible. Each recognizes that for their position to "win the day"in a manner where their own public reputation remains positive, they must do all they can to sway public opinion to their side. It is members of the public, after all, that ultimately will decree how pleased or not they were with their representative's performance in this entire proceeding. Part of that assessment, of course, will revolve around whether they agree with how the representative votes. Additionally, voters will also make known how they believe their representatives conducted themselves in this matter.

There are several challenges that each member of Congress is facing these days: determining whether President Trump does in fact, deserve to be impeached; assessing the opinions of the voters they have been elected to represent; properly making known the reasons behind their eventual decision on this issue; and maintaining open channels of communication with the voting public for the duration of the debate. This is an emotional matter, which means people are going to be upset regardless of how it ultimately plays-out. Such a reality points to the precarious tight rope that each elected member of Congress is currently walking. As voters, we should at least be mindful of the communication waters they are now seeking to navigate.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Safety Features

One of the great things about automobiles today are the safety features. Never have they been better and more sophisticated than they are today. Approximately 50 years ago, when seat beats were first becoming a fixed part of cars and trucks, I bet many folks figured they would be the be-all of making vehicles as safe as possible. If those same people could have looked into the future to where we are today when it comes auto safety, they would have been blown away. I confess, as a person of today, even I look at the current array of safety features and am blown away.  When it comes to auto safety, I am convinced we are living in the best of times.

One particular feature that I like is the warning cars give the driver when he or she is beginning to either drift into another lane or off the road itself. "Beep. Beep. Beep." When the car makes that sound it is not saying the person behind the wheel is a bad driver. Rather, it is simply making it known that the driver is off-course and needs to correct the path that they are on. I am particularly impressed with this safety feature as I think it is one that all of us could emulate or match. All of us at times get off course for all kinds of reasons. This is especially true in our interactions with others. Disagreements, by definition, signify a path that needs correcting or, at the very least, some sort of adjusting.

Often times, when we disagree with another our feelings get hurt. Name calling occurs. Mean things are said. There is negative judgment toward the other. The result is the persons in-conflict lose sight of the mutual goal they share: enjoying a happy and fulfilling relationship. They need correcting. At those times, they need that annoying yet helpful sound of "beep, beep, beep." Such a "feature" does not pass judgment. Instead, it simply communicates that the two are off-track. Even better, it points out they are moving away from the overriding goal they share: happiness. Once that correction is made, then they are in a much stronger position to deal with their disagreement.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Repition and Empathy

The other day I was reading a fun article about pet ownership and the challenges of teaching one's pet to do tricks like playing dead, rolling over or sitting still. When it comes to communicating with one's pet, the author suggested the best way to proceed is to communicate often and with empathy. This struck me as a great summation of how public relations at its most effective works: often and with empathy. Public relations is all about relationships, establishing them and then maintaining them. How does one do that? (In raising that basic question, I am not referring to the actual strategies but rather the mindset one takes into applying those strategies.)

People, generally, are busy. Additionally, each day they contend with a great many distractions and messages from a great many sources. Consequently, it is not always easy to communicate a specific message that will truly resonate with them in a way that triggers action or a changing of one's mind. A big way to break through the multiple messages from multiple sources is summed up in the word: repetition. Many studies have shown that often people need to hear a message more than once before it truly sinks in. This is why in advertisements, for example, key elements in the overall message are repeated.

But that is not just true in advertisements. Repetition is also a vital element in other forms of communication such as speeches and even one-on-one conversations. Repeating key information is necessary in order to break-through the competition of all those other messages. And then there is the matter of empathy - trying to look at things from the audience's perspective. Not always easy but so important if one is to communicate a particular message effectively. Empathy speaks to the challenge of communicating a message in a way that best speaks to an audience's  concerns, questions or interests. If one can come even close to devising messages that creatively repeat key points and do so in a way to which the audience can relate, then they are well on their way to becoming a most effective communicator.