Thursday, September 02, 2010

What message do you send about PR?

I remember being stunned, earlier in my career, to learn that colleagues assumed I was going to be a great presenter and public speaker merely because I worked in communications and public relations...and by others who evaluated that skill in one-on-one situations, then decided I'd be a good "out front" person.  Knowing that I spent much of my time behind the scenes, rather than in front of them, I would never have assumed that.

It was a good early lesson that you can't assume that everyone understands your role.  I know other professions deal with this all the time, and honestly, why should we know all the details of another profession's work?

But as I've observed others in my field, I know this issue goes beyond just having a knowledgeable group of coworkers and clients.  Some in our profession help to confound others' understanding of what we do as communicatorsTake this example from Jennifer Walzer, founder of the company Backup My Info!, who blogs about her small business for the New York Times.  She avoided hiring a public relations firm for a long time, despite needing help, because of some lessons she learned about PR in her role as a blogger:
...frankly, my experience writing this blog has made me leery of what most public relations people do. I have learned that many firms like to throw things at the wall and see what sticks — without giving a lot of thought to the media outlet. For example, since I’ve been blogging about my small business, I have been pitched stories about Viking laws, Pepsi’s entrance into Romania, home-care for the elderly and the winners of the National Association of Corporate Directors’ annual Director of the Year awards.
That comes from Walzer's post entitled "I've Changed My Mind About PR," a title that says it all. You don't have to be pitching someone to make a bad impression that reshapes, and poorly, the way they think about PR. You can say "no" to every idea out of the box, fail to explain the real-world parameters in a way that helps your client navigate them, leave your clients (internal and external) unprepared for interviews, crises, everyday challenges.  And you can act annoyed when they persist because that's what their job tells them to do.  Just remember, your reactions and actions are shaping how your role is understood as much as anything else--and maybe more so.  How do you want to be understood?

Check out don't get caught on Facebook, where I'm floating ideas and discussing them before they appear on the blog.  It's shaping up as a great networking community for communicators.

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