If your experience in public relations is anything like mine, you routinely encounter managers who know how to do your job. Sure, they hired you, but not because they can’t do PR – anybody can do PR – but, because they don’t have the time so they give the job to you. Don’t worry, they’ll let you know how you’re doing and help you figure things out.
I’m no brain surgeon or rocket scientist but I’m pretty sure brain surgeons and rocket scientists don’t have to deal with this.
Most communications disciplines are considered “soft” skills. What that means to the folks we’re trying to help is that anyone can do what we do. Well, they’re right. Anyone can do PR, anyone can do crisis communication, anyone can be a media spokesperson – anyone.
That doesn’t mean everyone can do it well.
We burn a considerable number of calories explaining to managers that what they think they want isn’t what they need. For me, I’ve found analogies help frame managerial expectations. One of my go-to analogies is the game of golf.
It seems most everyone, even if they’ve never played golf, has an idea of how it’s played; you hit the ball toward the cup with a variety of clubs and the person who gets the ball in the cup with the fewest number of swings, wins.
It’s a simple concept and literally anyone, barring a physical disability, can play golf. Yet, very few do it well enough to be a pro. That’s because while it’s a simple concept, it’s not easy to do well.
Pro golfers understand what each tool in their bags can do and understand what they can do with each tool in their hands. They don’t simply know how to swing a club, they know how to swing it with just the right torque at just the right angle, striking the right part of the ball in order to get a back spin, make the ball slice left or hook right. They understand the external elements that impact the trajectory of the ball. A tail wind does something different than a head or cross wind. When a green is wet, the ball rolls differently than when it is dry — all these things must be considered in the execution of a golf swing and all the golfer’s expertise must be brought to bear in order to get the ball as close to the target as possible, as efficiently as possible with the fewest amount swings possible.
The act of communicating is no different than swinging a club. In fact, we start communicating the minute we are born. We formulate a message, we convert it to a medium and we send it to a receiver. The receiver gets the message, translates it and confirms the message has been received.
It, too, is a simple concept and anyone can do it. Yet, just like golf, while the concept is simple, it’s not easy to do well.
Professional communicators also understand the tools in their kit and how to use them to reach a target. They don’t simply know how to write, speak or create a social media account – they know how to craft a message that will impact a particular audience, they understand the science of effective communication, that it needs to be mutually beneficial, that it needs to be relevant to the intended audience. They also understand how external elements impact messages, how they’re delivered, how they’re received and how they’re processed. Professional communicators take into account whether personal risk to the receiver is involved, whether cultural or philosophical boundaries are adding noise to the message. They understand a press release may not reach the target the same way a well-crafted tweet will. They know that reaching the target alone isn’t the object; it’s ensuring the target absorbs the message and acts in a way that supports the sender.
Do you agree or disagree? Have I oversimplified the metaphor? Is there a tactic or analogy you use with the armchair communicators that’s worked for you? Please share in the comments or drop us a line so we can share.