Michael Fineman is president of Fineman PR, a San Francisco public relations agency.mail the author
ITL #210 Respectful, considerate communication: public relations as consciousness-raising8 months, 3 weeks ago
Consciousness-raising is a practice that public relations professionals need to hone, now more than ever. In the past, it was a given for our profession. These days, though, communications emphasizing tone, thoughtfulness and empathy are truly vital.
We must explain our organizations in a manner so that people will listen. We must disarm adversaries with good faith and a reasoned approach. We must not supply them with material to counter, which would distract our market support and interfere with our organization’s mission, relationship-building and profit.
Today, the market is being influenced by the candor of our political environment in a way unbefitting to good communications. Corporate leaders, CEOs, specialists in legal and finance, those in important positions in production, distribution, etc., feel empowered to ‘tell it like it is.’ There is a movement to show conviction and strength and not to worry about diplomacy.
The ability and sense to project a dignified presence and a caring awareness of public sensitivities are not always front and center in business, but often that discipline in organizational behavior and language is critical to success. All organizations need their market’s goodwill to achieve their goals, but the awareness and effort needed for that are not necessarily second nature to anyone.
According to H.L. Mencken, conscience is “the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking.” And consciousness for business must be studied and learned and, in practice, must be purposeful.
For more than 30 years of client work, I’ve noticed that many brilliant minds are only comfortable discussing things based on hard facts. Correspondingly, they are often limited by seeing all things as separate and distinct, not whole and not necessarily related to other business considerations.
This is a challenge for public relations professionals because we must maintain an outlook based on intangibles for scenarios that are often ineffable and filled with uncertainties, more EQ than IQ.
Now, let’s be sure we understand the plane upon which I am calling for us to raise human consciousness. What I have in mind is an elevated form of awareness and empathy toward the human condition. This is the court upon which serious, strategic communicators should play. It is the cognizance of and planning for an organization’s language and behavior to strike just the right tone, messages, context, resonance, and with a view of the ‘big picture.’
As the pendulum swings, there is a new trend towards insensitive discourse or ‘disruption’ in the cause of anti-political correctness. It is that trend which inspired this call to my fellow practitioners.
Some argue, convincingly in a few cases, that we should be at ease with being outspoken, even if the messages and feelings we convey are prejudicial, intolerant and self-important. People leaning this way, even important people who bear responsibilities towards the rights and quality of life of others, further insist on doubling down when called to account.
The rationale appears to be that we all have legitimate points of view, and there is no one who should tell us we are wrong or ignorant; everything is relative. Further, they insist, we are all entitled to our perspectives and to voicing those perspectives publicly and loudly if we desire. As an experienced public relations counselor with a legacy of high professional standards, I say “no”.
Standing our ground
For the same reason that it is important to teach our children politeness and sensitivity for the feelings of others, public relations professionals must stand their ground in their example and insistence on the lessons of civil discourse. In our business lives, egocentric, rude, hyper-partisan, hostile and demeaning communications cannot be allowed to rule the day.
There are many reasons why the practice of ethical and acceptance-seeking public relations is of value to the greater good. This is not about spinning facts or creating alternative facts.
Communications professionals promote partnerships and connections; we engage in communications for better understanding in the marketplace; we propose or introduce new and creative ideas to those who could benefit; and we help keep our organizations focused on the pursuit of public goodwill and meaningful community relations.
Ours may be the only department or discipline that prioritizes the public reputation and conscience of a brand. In the years ahead, perhaps, that may be our biggest responsibility and contribution; the promotion of a civil society during a brief period of unrest, anger and hostility.
It is my belief that respectful and considerate communication is the long-term play. And, as public relations professionals, we must cultivate it as our state of consciousness.