Rookie Observations: Empathy at the Core of PR

Rookie Observations: Empathy at the Core of PR

When I was fresh out of college and on the job hunt, I had a few hurdles to jump before I could start a career. I wanted to go into communications, but I didn’t have any real-world experience outside of an internship writing stories for my college’s alumni newsletter.

With an English major and a rhetoric minor, I had a strong foundation for writing and communicating, but my classroom knowledge of the industry was surface level at best.

After a good deal of searching, an interview for an entry-level opening at a highly respected PR agency offered the perfect opportunity to get a foot in the door — and keep it there, ideally. With such an opportunity, though, came the daunting challenge of explaining how I was qualified despite the fact that my degree was not in public relations.

When you’re new to communications, start simple.

The last approach I wanted to take was the trusty old “fake it till you make it.” I figured any false notions of experience or wisdom would backfire as soon as the interview started and I was on the spot.

I took the challenge as an opportunity to examine PR through the lens of my English major and rhetoric minor. I chose to save the strategic practices of the work — crisis management, content marketing, etc. — for later and start by identifying the most crucial aspects of an effective PR campaign.

My investigation concluded (for that moment, at least) with the understanding that the central focus of PR is to protect and promote the brand. Simply put, it’s about doing the right thing and communicating it.

Public relations is about empathy.

With this simple definition, I had reached a checkpoint on the road to the interview. I suddenly felt qualified; I had carried out my own PR campaign just a few days ago!

At the time, I was working on-call for a 24/7 water- and fire-damage restoration company. My crew was called to a retirement home around 1 a.m. after a burst sprinkler had flooded two floors’ worth of rooms. About an hour into the clean-up, in the midst of tearing out wet carpet padding and ventilating the ceiling, I took a few minutes to talk with the elderly woman whose room we were restoring. She was very frightened and upset. She had no idea when she would be able to go back in her room, and she hadn’t heard anything in three hours. I sat down with her and explained what we were doing in her room and why, and I told her how much longer we would be there. She thanked me for breaking the silence, and I got back to work.

It was the right thing to do — a no-brainer — but it was also a reflection of the company logo on my shirt.

Was it really all that different from a PR campaign? In the sense that my audience was exactly one person, yes. But it can’t hurt to start small with crisis management.

So, if you are interested in a career in public relations or communications but aren’t sure where to begin, perhaps this story might provide a fresh starting point. It’s easier to start with a wholesome understanding of a single principle than to take it all on at once. And while the scope of my work today extends far past PR, I’m grateful to have entered the industry with a bit of clarity.

Sure, learning the ins and outs of media relations and inbound marketing has presented a bit of a learning curve. The beauty, though, is that communications is about fostering real and meaningful relationships with a diverse client base. It means learning to embrace other perspectives — with empathy — in order to tell the right story.

How are you telling your story?

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