Do we need face to face in PR?

Firstname, lastname, candidate number, job title, organisation, postcode, telephone, email, date of birth – that’s all I know about this year’s CIPR Advanced Certificate and Diploma students.

That’s a lot more than they know about me – but over the next few weeks and months we will get to know each other as people, working towards the common goal of their successful achievement of a professional public relations qualification.

I’m currently entering the students’ data into my educational site to enable the guys to learn more about what is involved in their studies, begin their recommended reading and download the first workbook and notes for Session 1.

At present, I have no faces to go with the names – although I could imagine what someone will look like on the basis of a few facts.  But, that would mean drawing on stereotypes, prejudging rather than being open minded. 

I heard from a group at Cambridge the other year, that before they met me, they thought I would have long nails and wear bright red lipstick.  Was it my name, my address or something in my emails that gave that impression.

We increasingly make connections only by email, online or telephone rather than coming face to face.  Undoubtedly that means making assumptions from limited information.  We look for things we have in common – do we like the sound of their voice, the way they express themselves in writing?  Do they seem friendly or fierce? 

Perhaps I should undertake some online research into this year’s students – see what I can find via Google, Myspace, Facebook etc.  As we are looking at the impact of new media on PR in our first sessions – that would be an interesting exercise.

If you only know someone from a mailing list, how can you build a relationship?  In PR, the least you should do is to read a journalist’s work.  But there is nothing quite like being able to meet face to face. 

I always found relationships with journalists developed much better when you’d had a chance to meet at a launch, a Motorshow or other event. 

Once you meet someone, I find the communication via virtual means improves.  I’ve never had the reverse experience – of liking someone online and feeling disappointed when you meet. 

I believe we really do need to meet people face to face in PR – that’s why it’s called public relations, not press release distribution – or marketing.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

2 thoughts on “Do we need face to face in PR?”

  1. Couldn’t agree with you more, Heather, and particularly topical for me, as I’ve just come back from a housing development launch. The ability to put faces to names, voices and e-mail addresses makes a working relationship much easier, in my opinion. However much we like it or not, we all make judgements based on names and voices, and could subconsciously adjust our behaviour and working practices with them. By meeting people face-to-face, it personalises the relationship with the other person.

    However, managers within companies and organisations need to realise that this relationship-building is an essential part of public relations, and we need to be given the time to do it properly, not frowned upon when we leave the office on what colleagues in other departments might describe as ‘jollies!’ Just because we’re not sat at our desks typing away like mad, it doesn’t mean we’re not working just as hard on behalf of our organisations to improve its reputation!

  2. Richard – you are quite right, many people do see time out of the office as a jolly. It seems harder and harder for PR practitioners to justify time out with media, for training or other opportunities that undoubtedly make them better at their job.

    I really don’t think we can be successful practitioners sat behind our desks typing away at emails and sending out releases.

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