In one of my previous lives as a public relations practitioner, I developed an odd (to my co-workers) habit of stopping on the way to my office to pick up stray bits of paper in the parking lot and dust the (fake) shrubbery that adorned our lobby.
This routine struck a lot of folks as strange because, according to my job title, I was “Communication Director,” not “Housekeeper.” But, as I explained time and again, I was, in fact, “housekeeper”…as should each of them be.
I tell this story regularly to my Communication students at Curry College, especially those who take my “Principles of Public Relations” course as part of their PR Concentration requirements. The point I try to drive home is that public relations is much, much more than writing news releases or organizing events.
No. Public relations in general terms is about “appearance.” As communicators, we spend a lot of our time telling others about our client or employer’s activities. We do our best to paint a positive picture that encourages their support.
But, as I also often say, “appearance is what’s in your front yard”…what you want passers-by to see and think of you…your reputation.
There’s another side to this, though, and that’s your “back yard” where you store your junk in hopes that no one will see it…the “real” you…your character.
Back to my plant-dusting. At this particular organization, we spent a lot of time and energy emphasizing the cleanliness of our operations. And we did a pretty good job of it.
But it hit me one day as I walked from my car to our main entrance that there was a bit of a disconnect. The question popped up in my mind, “How can we credibly communicate ‘cleanliness’ when people have to walk past trash on their way in to our building?”
Then I spotted cobwebs on the fake plants. To quote Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper, “Bazinga!”
Thus began the daily ritual…pick up pieces of trash on the way in; check the plants…and other spots…for cobwebs or anything else that might contradict the perception of “cleanliness.”
Ethical business practices are much the same. Organizations say they care about their customers and the general public and society and all that. But what goes on “behind closed doors”?
This is where we, in our role as communicator and corporate conscience, come into the picture. We (ideally) should be part-and-parcel of the corporate decision-making process, lending our perspective as a communication professional to the conversation.
We should be plugged into the thoughts of our stakeholders…aware of their opinions, wants, and preferences. If our leaders are considering actions that are contrary to what those important audiences are thinking, we should be ready, willing, and able to speak up. As I so often say, “If it makes the hair on the back of your neck get all creepy-crawly, there’s very likely a problem.”
And this leads us back to my original thoughts on good housekeeping. It’s our responsibility to make sure our “front yard” is neat and tidy. But we also have to keep an eye on the “back yard” where plans and programs are created…is everything equally presentable? Would we be proud of what passers-by (stakeholders) will see?
After all, “good housekeeping = good PR!”