Why My Mother Was My Best PR Teacher

October 21, 2009 at 11:36 am

I’m dealing with two issues this morning:

First, I found an interesting post on a ZDNet blog that I wanted to reread, so I saved the link to bit.ly. Now I can’t find it. The bit.ly URL doesn’t work and a search of ZDNet doesn’t turn it  up. Very frustrating. Maybe I imagined it…

But the column, which was about what not to do to reporters on social media sites, got me thinking about the second thing on my mind: lessons from my best PR teacher –my mom.

I’m second-generation PRguy. My dad was among the original APRs, and he taught me a lot. But my mom laid the groundwork.  Here’s why:

Public relations is about ethical behavior and establishing relationships. You can’t learn either of those things in classes, seminars, webinars or by reading articles. You learn the basics when you’re young.

Each time I talk about ethics, I make the statement that my mother taught me everything I needed to know about ethics by the time I was 10. It’s usually good for a chuckle. OK, she didn’t have me reading the PRSA Code of Ethics and understanding that it was wrong to misrepresent who I was working for. But she did teach me that lying was wrong.  She also taught me that there aren’t shades of truth. And she taught me that there are some things you don’t tell your mother, something I tried hard to explain to my kids when they were in college and shared some of their “fun” experiences.

Same thing with building relationships.

The blog entry that I can’t find talks about things you shouldn’t do to a reporter on social media: don’t “friend” somebody (I hate seeing nouns used as verbs…and vice versa) on Facebook, then pitch them. Don’t jump on social media conversations and twist them into discussing your product or service.

Why do we have to say these things are bad on social media. They’re bad. Period.

All this discussion about social media etiquette leaves me with the same reaction as the discussion about  ethics: Your mother should have taught you better.

Why would you befriend someone — really or virtually — just to take advantage of that friendship with b.s.? Why would you pitch a reporter, regardless of the medium you use to do it, with a story that you know damned well has no news value (note to marketing people who bug your PR people to pitch self-serving puff — do I need to repeat that last?)? Do it a few times, and you won’t have any reporters — or friends — to talk to.

Calling someone a friend or colleague implies that you respect them. I was taught to treat friends and colleagues accordingly.

Social media is a way of talking with people. What’s marvelous about it is that you can get feedback, resulting in improved understand and a better feeling for what both sides of the conversation need. Think telephone on steroids.

If I have a reporter’s phone number, do I call that reporter and abuse the relationship? Not if I want that reporter to take my calls. Do I call any other business contact and abuse the relationship? Again…not if I want my calls taken.

Again…respect.

Social media also provides a way for people to reach you. For me, I not only have to answer my phone, which always rings as I get into rhythm on some writing assignment.  Now I have to monitor Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, email and my cell phone.  An important part of the social media equation is that you have to answer and reply. Ignoring a reporter or other business contact — especially one you profess to call a friend — will make your telephone or Facebook wall very quiet very quickly.

How many times have you ignored your office phone, only to hear your cell phone ring? If you ignore that, an email message pops up. And, yes, I’ve had a Facebook notice.  It’s a clue that someone really, really wants to talk to me. My mother taught me to take those calls and be polite.

But I keep those multimedia calls in mind, especially the ones that turned out to be unimportant, before I start banging on every communications channel available to reach someone. I was short on patience and had a reporters’ demand for immediate response long before instant communications made us all impatient. But I’ve learned over the years how counterproductive that impatience can be.

I could mention “respect” again here, but I won’t.

At the end of all the discussion about new media etiquette, it comes down to remembering what your mother told you: Be nice and treat others how you would like to be treated.

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Entry filed under: Dealing with social media, Ethics in Public Relations, Media Relations. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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