Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Everything I needed to know for public relations, I learned being a parent*

(NOTE: This is a cross-blog post initially published on my mainly professional-focused blog. Since the topic deals with parenting -- and the lessons learned -- I thought it'd be worthy to post here.)

*First, if you are reading into the headline that I or PR communicators should treat their target audiences like children, you're reading too much into the headline, taking it literally or trying to start something. That's not the point of this post. If you still believe it is, please leave. Otherwise, I would most appreciate it if you continued reading and left your $0.02 with a comment.

During some email back and forth a couple weeks ago with Ann Handley regarding a comment I left on her blog, I was reminded how much my children teach me. Then it hit me -- that much of what I've learned being a parent is very relevant to public relations and marketing communications.

Each child is different, so you can't parent them each the same way. Different temperaments, different personalities, different abilities, different ways they react to me (and my wife. From here on out, whenever I say me, I mean us).

The same goes with the audiences we are trying to market and communicate to. Each person is unique and reacts in different ways for what "works" for reaching him or her with the message. At the same time, there are generalities we use in parenting our children. We can't say the same thing four different ways. The same goes for communicating to our audiences. For example, look at reporters at a particular media outlet. There might be a company-wide policy or preference for receiving news, or for when you can contact them.

Be patient because each has his/her own time table. You never really know when something that you've been telling or trying to teach your children will finally click and sink in. Or, when you tell one to do something -- clean up, for example -- he or she will do it, but do it his or her own way. If you don't have a set time table yourself, that's fine in most cases.

The same goes for pitching a story. It may be a great story, but the timing for that particular reporter may not be right. You may get a call from that reporter a week or couple months later -- because the story was good, but he/she couldn't for whatever reason act on it then. That's also why you need to constantly remind your audience of your client or your employer with marketing messages -- because the audience may not need your product or service now -- but will in three months. Best to be top of mind.

You need to know and be involved in your children's lives. Yes, that may be an obvious one, but it's easy to be more of the care-giver -- looking after their basic needs -- than being a parent and playing with your children. My wife and I have a nearly nine-month-old daughter. While I love her as much as the others, I look forward to the time when she is less dependant on me (when we can communicate better, when she can easily sit up on her own, etc.). While the baby stage is great, it also is great when we can interact more. And, when I need to be less of a care-giver of my daughter and I can spend fun, quality and more quantity time with all my children.

The same point goes for our audience: Essentially, you need to know your audience; not just market or spew forth messages to them. Research, read, contact and even interact with your audience. Know what they like and dislike, their preferences. That's one of the great advantages of social media: market feedback and interaction.

Yes, really knowing your audience is not easy, but you'll have a much higher rate of success than the proverbial throwing a lot of mud on the wall and seeing what sticks. Besides, how else can you do point #1 above if you don't know your audience?

The basics: You need to want to be a parent, or at least be open to it and take it for the important responsibility it is. There's been enough times when I've heard about, seen or read about people who really should not be parents. More often than not, they're too selfish. I have felt sorry for their children, and hoped that God would particuarly watch over them. For the vast majority of people who are parents, even if they didn't at first want to be, they were responsible enough to know and take on the sacrifices and life re-focusing that's often required to raise children.

As with public relations and any profession, you need the basics. You need to know stuff like good writing (grammar, how different tactics call for different writing styles, etc.), have a solid work ethic, be honest and ethical, have a natural curiosity for your clients' businesses (and definitely your employer's business!), and have a sincere interest in others.

After all this, please don't think I'm elevating the role of PR and marketing communications to that of parenthood. Being a parent is by far one of the most important things I've ever have and ever will do in my life. That's why, I'm looking at parenting and seeing what I can apply from it to my job -- not the other way around.