Monday, December 28, 2009


Great public relations requires empathy — the ability to put yourself in the shoes of your audience — so that you can deliver messages in the self-interest of that audience. This is true whether you’re engaged in a major corporate campaign or merely a relationship with another individual.

The most obvious example of the latter is during the holiday season, when you receive someone’s name in a “Secret Santa” gift exchange at the office or when you’re looking for the perfect presents for family members or friends. What do I buy for them? What do they need? What are their interests? For example, if I buy a book, would they prefer history, romance or a cookbook? What choice do I make to underscore my understanding of and respect for the recipient?

Clearly, gifts deliver a message. The more individualized the message — the more it demonstrates your affinity for and emotional connection with the recipient — the more likely it is that your gift will evolve over the years from just another present to a keepsake with real sentimental value. Objects like an autographed book with a personal message or a one-of-a-kind antique can really touch a chord.

Well, my then-5-year-old son, Matt, did that for me about 20 years ago. This was the first of many times, but this holiday gift stands out in my memory. Why? Because he made it himself. It is a small, round, blue clay paperweight with a doughnut hole, covered with silver-colored nuts and bolts. It is about three inches in diameter. And it is something that catches your attention. It reflects his sense of design and color. Perhaps, even his ability to manage a project to completion. Today — and for many years now — it sits as a memento on my desk at the firm. It reminds me of Matt’s childhood and his strength as an adult.

This gift has a “sticky” message that touched my heart — which is the underpinning of every relationship, whether between an organization and its constituents or just two individuals.

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