If you have been around a political or social issue conversation in the United States, either in person or online in recent years, you know that the state of our discourse, especially about important issues, is struggling. We, collectively, are talking past each other or yelling at each other. There’s a lot of noise, but there’s precious little real conversation happening. And that’s bad for everyone.
Recently, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, indicated that public relations professionals, and the industry in general, can play an important role in shifting the tone and content of discourse from combative to productive.
Speaking at the PRSA 2018 International Conference, Reich said, “You are people who set the tone very much for what we, and how we, communicate… There is now a vitriol, and anger in the system… We are not communicating.”
Reich went on to point out a few usual suspects, including the increasing tribalism, sometimes called “information bubbles” that a lot of people find themselves in, simply by making choices in an increasingly fragmented world. Reich said this was because we tend to gravitate toward those who think like us. “We don’t like to live where people disagree… We now have more choice of where to live than ever before, so there’s a bubble effect… Everyone around us seems to agree.”
Reich suggested that a key part of constructive conversation is choosing to listen to those with whom you disagree. There’s a big hint about connective messaging in this. If you can achieve connection before you attempt to deliver your message, there’s more chance of achieving buy-in. It’s about more than hoping people keep an open mind. It’s about knowing where they are coming from and considering that at least as important — if not more important — than what you want to communicate to them.
As a communications approach, this may not be easy, but it is effective. And, PR pros have the opportunity to help encourage that shift by demonstrating how connective communication can deliver wins. That’s not to say we shouldn’t put out controversial narratives or messages we know will divide an audience, but how that audience will respond should be factored in, even if we know some of them will not respond favorably.
Understanding your audience, I mean, really understanding them, not assuming you understand them, is the key to success in today’s more consumer-driven marketplace. It’s as much about knowing where people are living as it is about telling how they could be living.
Public relations, as an industry, does have a part to play in getting American communicating again. That begins with leading by example.
Ronn Torossian is one of America’s foremost Public Relations executives as founder/CEO of 5WPR, a leading independent public relations Agency. The firm was honored as PR Firm of the Year by The American Business Awards, and has been named to the Inc. 500 List. Torossian is author of the best-selling "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations." For more of Ronn Torossian's reports, Go Here Now.
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