Public Relations

Public Relations -- aka "PR" -- is hard to do well under the best of circumstnaces, If you are running a small business or de facto doing citizen planning work, you are probably trying to manage a relationship to the public without benefit of a professional public relations team.

That makes things even harder.

Here are some things I find personally useful which hopefully will be of some benefit to other folks.

What is my message or goal?

The first thing that pops into my mind to say about a thing isn't necessarily the best way to convey that information to the public and it may not serve my goals very well. For topics I know are challenging -- either generally challenging because it's a tough topic or challenging for me because I'm me -- I do a "brain dump" for my first draft with no expectation that it will be published.

I typically mark that "(Working Title) v1." The v1 stands for version 1 and there may be many iterations. I sometimes have v2, v3, v4, (NEW title) v1 and so forth.

I do that to preserve things while changing them. I keep a copy of the old language and start fresh rather than editing something that's got some good parts but isn't quite right.

There are times when I just edit a thing and it's a judgement call on my part of what I want to keep a copy of for some reason and what I feel fine with just editing. I can't readily tell you what makes me sometimes choose one and sometimes choose the other.

Trying to craft a message is a process and sometimes dealing with your own baggage and blind spots and what not is a big part of that and you can do that in draft form without sharing any of that nonsense in public.

If I'm really upset -- or just not feeling well that day -- the first draft may include a lot of cussing and what not. I try to clean up stuff like that before actually hitting "publish."

So I write the thing and then I ask myself if that actually gives the message I'm going for or serves the goal I have in mind. If not, I need to keep working on it.

Some things are harder to write than others. Sometimes, my first draft is just fine and needs no revision and other times it takes me months to take an idea from a stub with just notes about the idea to a piece I am willing to publish.

How can this be misinterpreted by "my worst enemy"?

There probably isn't anyone on planet earth who doesn't have some friction with someone. I think about how specific people I actually know that are a problem for me could twist it all out of shape but I also think about how general groups of "haters" might decide to latch onto a thing and run with it to my detriment.

Generally speaking, it's best to rephrase things such that X specific person or that group of "haters" doesn't have an opening to have a hissy fit about it or somehow cause you trouble. Ideally, you just want to talk about the thing and not engage with the haters, whether those are your personal enemies or some umbrella group of haters (like: misogynists, racists, homophobes, etc).

But sometimes that doesn't work. Sometimes you have to actively rebut those people and that gets tricky because of The Streisand Effect.

The older I get, the more I just try to focus on not leaving openings for people to take a thing bad places in a way that might seem reasonable to other folks without directly rebutting a negative interpretation that concerns me. Directly rebutting it all too often ends up putting out the fire with gasoline while taking that issue into account as I write so as to leave no openings for it tends to be more effective in most cases.

There will always be some negative reactions to what you do, but if they are mostly reactions from known "haters" whose complaints won't get taken seriously by most people, you may not have to worry too much about that.

You mostly need to worry about two things:
  • Specific people in some kind of position to jack you up for some reason.
  • Negative reactions that could torpedo your thing because it's a reasonable objection/criticism or seems like a reasonable objection/criticism, so it could get taken seriously by the general public even if it has no real merit.

Who is my audience?

You need to think about both who you want to reach and also who is likely to see it. That will be determined in part by what channels you expect to use to put out your message.

Are you posting it to Facebook? Twitter? The local newspaper?

Although some of my writing has seen tens of thousands of page views, a lot of my writing gets between 20 and 50 page views. So a lot of it is written for a relatively short list of people that I have reason to believe read everything I write.

In practice, I end up later redacting a lot stuff that I wrote for a short list of people because I don't necessarily want it seen by thousands of people. Doing that feels a bit like playing Russian Roulette at times because you never know for sure who all is reading, if they will share that around, etc.

I guess one takeaway I've gotten from that is that if you control the content because it's your website and you are the admin, you don't have to leave it out there for all eternity. It's okay to decide to remove it (or edit it) at a later date if your situation has changed or something.

If you don't control the content, err on the side of only saying things you are willing to leave out there long term. If you are posting comments on a public forum and can't edit them later, think twice about saying anything you might not want out there permanently because you happen to be upset at the moment or something.

Write as if both no one and everyone will see it.

It's contradictory, but I find it helpful to try to speak my mind and that means to some degree pretending no one is ever going to see that. I ask myself "What do I really think about this? Even the stuff that might not be socially acceptable to say?"

That can help me make my main points. That can help me sort out what I think needs to be said, even if it's likely to be controversial or something.

It's kind of a principle of brainstorming. When you brainstorm, you want to write down every idea that pops into your mind without censoring it because that's the only way to get good and creative ideas.

But then you "edit" later. So you write down ALL the zany ideas and then you go through them and try to sort the wheat from the chaff.

One example I read about was some woman who was having a lot of friction with her teenager and one of the ideas that got written down was something extreme and zany like "Send her to the moon!" and that helped her decide at the end to send the teenager to a relative's house for the weekend so they could get a break from each other.

She wouldn't have come up with "Send her to my sister's house" if someone hadn't been willing to say "Just send her away in some extreme fashion! Get rid of her! I'm so done with her!"

But then after coming up with the "zany" ideas that have some kernel of truth and what not, edit it like you expect it to go viral and be read by thousands or millions of people. Because if you are publishing it, that can happen and you don't want it to be a thing you regret. You want to be ready for the limelight by having put some polish on it.

In my case, that often means editing out the gratuitous swearing because I have a potty mouth. I do use swear words in my writing, but I try to use them intentionally and purposefully and not use "the F word the way other people use very".

I guess it's kind of like that video "Fuck you, pay me" versus some comedian who is known to pepper every sentence with swear words.

Mike Monteiro: F*ck You, Pay Me

So I "write as if no one will read it" because I try to say the thing that matters, the thing that's important, the thing that in some cases makes you feel scared to say it at all. But then I try to think about HOW I am saying that as well because what if it goes viral and gets seen by a lot of people?

The first part is about generating good ideas. The second part is more about delivery and polish.

That second part is often like taking that initial impetus of "I would like to stick her in a rocket and shoot her off to the moon." and toning it down to "Okay, that's not something I am really going to do. But I could stick her on a bus and send her to my sister's house for the weekend."

How will this be interpreted by different people?

I think the hardest thing about Public Relations is learning to talk "one on one" with many different people at the same time. Because when you post something publically, individuals are seeing that or reading that and it is in some meaningful way a one-way conversation between you and that one person.

But it's a one-way conversation between you and that one person many times over. This is going to happen between "you" and many different individuals. So if you say X, how will different people hear that?

And thinking about that makes it hard to write for "the public." It's challenging to say a thing that means what you want it to mean when read by very different people.

But not thinking about that is how things go sideways. When you write for "one person" that you have in mind and then many people read it, that is often a source of things going bad places that you didn't intend because you didn't think about it.

It Seems My Silence Was Heard is a piece I wrote elsewhere. It's sort of a case study in thinking through how things will be perceived by an audience and whether or not those things really serve my goal or just cause some unwanted Streisand Effect.

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