If you relate to the public “on behalf” of anyone or anything, in any way, it helps to know some basics about public relations (PR … doesn’t mean personal record in this case). Whether you own your own business, help manage a small business (say … a local race), are heavily involved as a volunteer or ambassador, or even if you’re a blogger (if your blog is more than just “my place to vent”), there are some things you should keep in mind.

And I have been known to think with my “PR hat” when dealing with my own personal relationships. I’ll be honest, it helps. You get more bees with honey …

For the record, I have a bachelors degree in communication, and I have worked in public relations & marketing for the past eight years, six of those years in healthcare (hospitals and nursing homes) which is no cakewalk when it comes to relating to the public. 

Workin’ it

My advice to you:

Manage the message. How do you want your business/organization/blog to be seen? If you want to be seen as professional, you have to act professionally. The number one job of someone in public relations is managing the message. You need to think about not just what you want to say (and what you don’t want to say), but how you say it. What tone of voice and language you use. You are representing something, and you need to manage the message in a way that mirrors what you aspire to be.

Don’t take it personally. If you are a good PR person, you care deeply about the organization you are representing. (If you don’t, you should, otherwise, why are you representing it?) And when someone criticizes something you care about, it is easy to take it personally. Believe me, every time I see a negative post about any of the organizations with which I am involved, I can’t help but take it personally. But it’s not about me, so I can’t respond as if I have taken it personally. I am speaking as the organization, and I want the organization to be seen as professional, trustworthy, compassionate, a good neighbor, etc.

Don’t hide. There will be negative comments, posts, tweets, emails, letters, phone calls, etc. Social media didn’t bring about our ability to complain, it just gave us a very public and very easy way to do so. You (the organization) will never be able to please everyone. You will make mistakes. But you can control how you respond. Deleting/ignoring comments, and asking others to delete comments or posts makes it look like you have something to hide. But if you show that you are responsive, open to feedback, and willing to right any wrongs, that is a huge PR win. And will usually turn the negative comments into positive ones. Even after you resolve an issue, don’t delete the original feedback (unless there is a legal/ethical reason to do so, and “I don’t like it” is not good enough). Leave it out there, along with your responses, so everyone can see that you don’t hide from any feedback, in fact, you welcome it. You will be seen as much more trustworthy.

Be transparent and open. Sometimes silence means you are hard at work on something, or you’re waiting on more information. But to your audience, it might come across as ignoring their feedback, avoiding the issue, or just not caring. Much like your personal relationships, communication is important. Let people know what’s up, even if it’s just “we are working on this and will get back to you.” It can go a long way.

Obviously, there is so much more I can say on this topic, but I’ll end it there.

I will give kudos to the Naperville Marathon for listening to the extensive feedback regarding their prices, and responding within 24 hours by lowering the fees to something a bit more reasonable – $105 for the full, $75 for the half. They posted to say they were listening to our feedback and going back to the drawing board, and came back with revisions that seem to be much more acceptable by their audience – and now they are receiving many positive comments. That is how you handle negative feedback. PR win. 

What do you think? Is this advice helpful, or does it just further the stereotype that public relations is just the art of trying to hide the truth and BS you? If you work in PR, are there any other basics you would add? And thinking as someone in the audience, what do you appreciate from PR people/social media community managers?