Originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera and the Longmont Daily Times-Call.

“With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.” Abraham Lincoln made that statement long before the art of public relations was identified. As with so many things, Abe got it right.

Public relations is sometimes referred to as “the second oldest profession.” The oldest shall remain unnamed. Suffice to say, both have something to do with reputations.

Reputations – individual and professional – are often illusions. Again, Lincoln referred to this when he stated, “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it, the tree is the real thing.”

With Facebook celebrating its eighth birthday and social media all the rage, some people are forgetting the importance of public relations in on-line interactions. As I’ve discussed before, the social media is a tool to use when marketing your business. However, it’s not the only way to promote your products or services. If used improperly, social media may have long-lasting negative impacts.

Recently I received a call from my telephone/internet provider. They wanted to know if I was happy with their service. That’s good. They were giving their customers a feedback channel, demonstrating that they care about customer service. But they weren’t listening. When I expressed my concern over charges, I simply received an innocuous, “I’m sorry but you already have the best deal possible.” So why call me?

A few days later I experienced technical difficulties. After trying for 30 minutes to reach a live person and ending up on hold, I decided to check out the competition. With “we’ll be with you in a moment” music playing on my land line, I reach out with my cell phone. I decided that the first company to provide a live person on either phone would get my attention.

The competition answered right away. I hung up on my soon-to-be former telephone/internet provider. The competitor was able to provide me with service for a lower fee and a guarantee that I would always be able to speak with a real person. Sorry, former provider, you’re gone.

Former provider’s messaging would have you believe that the customer is important to them. They are spending time and money to convey that image. They’re making calls, but they’re not listening. They’re sending, but they’re not receiving. Their shadows don’t fit their trees.

Public relations is making sure that shadows fit. It’s the thoughtful process of identifying people impacted by your services, products or messages and then working to understand their needs, isolating ways they receive information and determining what really matters to them.

Once audiences are targeted and parameters have been set, you can develop strategies to engender their support and business. Using social media is one way to do that. It’s not the only way. Successful public relations also encompass traditional media, stakeholder groups and others who influence opinions.

Public relations requires walking the walk. Here are some thoughts to ponder while you’re walking:

Posting personal comments on social media that offend sensitivities hurts your business reputation.

Making efforts to contact customers/clients and ignoring feedback hurts your reputation.

Not meeting expectations or deadlines hurts your reputation.

Failing to follow up or return calls or respond to emails or correct negative situations – all hurt your reputation.

Savvy business people recognize that public relations has the power to both attract and repel. Good public relations attract customers/clients. Bad public relations turn them away. It’s more than doing the right thing. It’s doing the right thing right.

As Abe Lincoln advised, be sure your shadow accurately reflects your tree.

Stacy Cornay is the owner of Communication Concepts Public Relations & Advertising. 
Visit www.comm-concepts.com or call 303-651-6612.

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