Oh, Mary

The Role of Empathy in Effective Media Relations

September 4, 2018
Lacie Peterson

Let’s face it, when people think about public relations, the first thing that comes to mind is a vision of self-serving spin. From my experience as a media relations and PR professional, I respectfully disagree.

When planning any media campaign, my first objective is to link my clients’ news to current events or demonstrate the real world problems that are solved by the news my clients are launching. Granted this is easier when working with enlightened clients, but all organizations or corporations have the capacity to make lives better. I see it as the job of PR to bring to light how they are improving lives.

This is where empathy comes in. Empathy is simply defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Flashy campaigns can get media attention, but the real job of PR is to build a relationship between a client and that client’s audience of choice. Flashy will eventually fizzle out when audiences realize they don’t align with their needs, wants or ethics. A deeper connection between brand and audience is the bigger goal.

Building an empathetic media campaign is difficult, but worth the effort. First, work with clients on CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiatives that can be promoted across consumer lines or across corporate communications. It is also important to do your research, stay abreast of current events, and be aware of what is in the hearts and on the minds of target audiences. Just because your client is looking to promote a consumer product doesn’t mean you can’t tie that to a larger theme that matters to consumer audiences.

For example, we recently worked with Tree Top to launch a new packaging innovation for their squeezable applesauce pouches. The product was a direct response to previously highlighted mold issues in other pouches due to accidental damage during transport. Their new pouches are clear so that consumers can see the food inside before eating it. This all occurred at a time when the words ‘fake news’ and lies were all over the media, and when people were grasping and reaching for something honest and good. We worked with Tree Top on the brand and product launch campaign, See the Good, tying it to transparency, honesty, and goodness. We live in troubled, divisive times and we wanted to let people see something good.

Marketing and communications are most successful when they are tied to emotion. This does not mean being exploitative. It means honestly working to find solutions to what really impacts and affects people and how your solutions or products can be of use and of service in people’s lives. In my mind, PR and media relations work best as a tool for good.