Mastering the art of communication is central to public relations and crisis management. Over the past decade – with the cannonade of instant messages and evolving social media platforms – we have become infinitely more connected to one another. But along with our varied methods of communication comes a greater margin for error – because although we are more technically connected to each other, communication is more fragmented than ever.
Public relations is an industry that was born to navigate the waters of miscommunication, misconstruction and misrepresentation. Being an expert in the field of communication does not mean that every word you say is perfect, or that you never face criticism. It means, most of all, that you are respectful and calculated in what you publish and attribute your name to. The value of a well-said word cannot be overstated; it has the power to change everything: from public opinion, to public policy, to legislation – all things that have real consequences on human lives.
At a time when opinions are particularly cutting, any statement can have a polarizing effect. My clients often find themselves the victim of libel and defamatory statements by inimical parties, tabloids or yellow press, or even bona fide journalists. We are living in an antipathetic world where civility is disregarded and responsibility for what we say and what we put out into the world is neglected. It has become commonplace to denounce others entirely in times of disagreement – to write off those who fail to meet eye to eye with us because we find their ideas irreconcilable with our own. For that very reason, public relations requires respect for the role of nuance in our communications. This means that before conclusions are drawn on issues, people, and stances, we are obligated to give everyone a fair and equal chance to represent themselves and their ideas as best as they can. Effective communication stands directly in the face of denouncement: it demands that we see and understand those who disagree with us, and it requires that the best (or best-represented) stances prevail.
Prior to the takeoff of social media, we might only have known the intimate opinions of those immediately around us or opinions printed in the local newspaper or broadcast on television. Now, we have access to explore personal opinions of those around the world with the ease of one Twitter search. With more social media platforms than ever before, we have a wide expanse of ways to communicate a message and garner attention for our causes – and the power that this gives us holds us entirely more responsible for what we publish. The ways in which we communicate have changed irreversibly. In order to keep up, so should we.