in an old episode of "Home Improvement," Jill, a psychology student, practices marriage therapy on a friend of Tim's. First without the wife, then with the wife. Jill understood the principles of marriage counseling, but she didn't know her clients, their background, or what they were mutually concerned about in their marriage. As she ran to her professor for help, Jill was reminded a very important rule of counseling: "First you meet, then you treat." Over the years, that bit of advice from a network television sitcom has stuck with me.
So often, public relations professionals are viewed as being good at their profession because they're a "people person." Yes, having a vivacious personality where you're comfortable communicating with others is important. But moreover, we understand that we must "meet" before we "treat."
I have encountered situations where management expects me to blindly solve communications problems without a definition of their audience. That's when problems arise. Public relations is all about developing a relationship with your stakeholders, or groups of individuals who have a vested interest, or "stake," in your organization or cause. Without a relationship, your brand is meaningless to consumers.
Getting to know your public comes down to two basic thoughts: the stakeholders' concerns, and the stakeholders' interests. If you sell makeup, and you build your company's image around looking glamorous, you're not going to have the greatest appeal to large audience of women concerned about the environment. Perspective is important.
Taking the time to know your public is time well spent. Watch the news, read the newspaper, talk to opinion leaders, read demographics - there are so ways to learn about your community. My favorite way is to stick my hand out and say, "How do you do?"