Monday, August 24, 2009

PR 101: Even Moses Called for It

David Y. Todd is a new workshop leader at The Writer's Center. His workshop, P.R. 101For Solo Practitioners and Small Organizations, begins on September 17th. David is a public relations consultant and writer. After working as a trial lawyer then as a journalist, he taught at universities before turning to public relations full time in 1998. He has directed publications and aided media relations for individuals, government, nonprofits, and universities, and has spoken and written for himself and others online in The Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, Yale Review, on local TV, and elsewhere. You can find him online at Take it away, David.

A doctor, engineer, and lawyer were debating whose was the oldest profession.

The doctor suggested one could date her profession back to the first surgery ever performed: God acted as a physician in fashioning Eve from Adam's rib.

The engineer replied that before even that event, God acted as the first engineer, making heaven and earth, creating order out of chaos.

The lawyer just sat back, smiled condescendingly and said, "Ah, my good friends, I have won. For, after all, who do you think invented chaos?"

Chaos, maybe, but at least, no falsehood. When I was a first-year law student, I was startled to learn that, in representing a client in litigation, lawyers don't lie. They're required to be scrupulous about the facts.

Of course, one learns how to emphasize some facts more than others, and one can't always know if a client is lying, but the rules forbid hiding anything relevant to the case that you know about.

I hadn't known that basic tenet of the trade till I got to law school.

So too, in public relations. While some of it of course includes "spin" and "marketing," be careful. It's never about pulling a fast one.

It's about learning what your story is and then telling it. But telling it the best way possible: one that makes it interesting enough that people want it.

And you can trace P.R. at least back to Moses. You know the story, it comes down to us from Exodus 4: Still early in the hero's journey he must take, Moses, after hearing his Lord speak to him out of the bush, begins right away to see problems with the mission assigned.

God handily counters each objection Moses raises until we get to who will deliver the message. Moses protests he can't. "I have never been eloquent."

God disagrees. "Who gave man his mouth?"

Moses, intimidated, doesn't budge. "Send someone else to do it."

God finally relents: "Your brother, Aaron...I know he can speak well." And God agrees to stay on as consultant: "I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do."

A final lesson of that chapter of the story: God directs Moses to use the miraculous staff to perform signs as proof of his mission and its necessity.

So too, in P.R., you have to have the goods. There's no public relations worth doing if you don't have something worth relating about.

You do, of course.

But that's why, in my P.R. workshop, I offer at the start some quick tools for making sure your mission is nailed down. So you can state in a sentence what you do and why, in a way that excites, or at least doesn't quash, interest. Your skill, your service, what you uniquely have to offer - that's the foundation for your P.R.

Be you doctor, lawyer, engineer, painter, author, retailer or, like me, a consultant in some specialty, your profession finds its own honorable and deep history. By my lights, P.R. is also about knowing a little of that history and being proud of it. You do what you do for deep personal reasons. Those, too, can be part of your story.

Why I do PR for a living? It's what I was given to do. If you know the Carl Jung-based personality metric devised by Meyers-Briggs, you'll understand when I say I'm an INFP: we get enthusiastic, we're passionate about mission, and we're gifted at words and images.

Or so I believe. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. See you at the workshop.

David Y. Todd

1 comment:

Hollywood Dick said...

I've worked for a bunch of lawyers over the years and all I can say is "that basic tenet of the trade" sure does get stretched to the breaking point. And often broken. Lawyers are pressured to misrepresent facts every single day. I've know several who quit the profession for that very reason. And a lie of omission is still a lie, even if you call it "emphasiz[ing] some facts more than others." But you're right about the rules -- failure to disclose the truth is a big no-no.

But another thing I've observed about lawyers is the way the really good ones get to know their clients inside and out, the better to tell their story in court. Because the well-told story is usually the one the jury believes. Seems like maybe something else the two professions (P.R. and Law) have in common.