October 14, 2021
There’s a reason God gave us two ears, two eyes and one mouth. It’s so you can listen and watch twice as much as you talk.
And while many get into Digital PR to talk, just as important, if not more, is the role of listening; listening intently.
Effective listening builds trust, shows that you value people, provides insight and affords the opportunity to improve, and crucially it rewards input and dialogue from the end user.
These are pretty fundamental tenets of any high performing PR organisation, right?
There are so many things in life which shape us; family, upbringing, friends, school, career, passions and projects, relationships, deaths and opportunities – life’s biggest uncontrollables that we are at pains to control.
But then here are two very powerful tools which we completely control; our eyes and our ears. In digital PR they are so glaringly obvious that they are often overlooked.
Speaking, writing and communicating are what we do best. But in order to know what to say, when to say it and how to say it, we must first listen. Unequivocally our performance in saying anything, anything at all, is contingent on the quality of our listening – in all its guises.
In modern day public relations, the percentage of time spent disseminating an organisation’s messages is very, very high, as we go about speaking, or telling stories, on behalf of organisations and businesses.
In my eyes, listening is an art and the listener an artist. Understanding is the masterpiece – it is earned. No one is born a great listener, it is achieved through practice.
It is what qualifies the very best in our industry to connect the dots between trust and relationships; whether between individuals or between an organisation and its customers, or stakeholders.
It is what enables us to look audiences in the eyes, and guarantee a level of interest they relish. This multidimensional endeavour, I think, is so important and so under-discussed, particularly in digital PR, that people might finally sit up and listen!
Effective listening solves problems, allows you to accurately measure a situation, promotes understanding among people and therefore performance at work. Crucially, for PRs, it allows us to canvass opinion and gives us a wider field of view and therefore a richer sense of perspective.
Unfortunately, many people cannot stop long enough to listen, especially when they’re successful. But you do get those who excel in interpersonal encounters, and those too who successfully spot trends flickering on the horizon.
However, true mastery comes when you employ the art of listening in all professional situations. These people, and the organisations for whom they work, can be found flying high.
Listening is the art and science of paying attention, tracking, analyzing, interpreting and responding to people’s needs and expectations. Informed through quality listening, it is our job to effectively craft messages to best create impact, resonate and then drive all-important action.
In PR, where time is money, it requires a commitment of time and focus on honing listening skills in face-to-face situations, as well as a willingness to embrace business communication, while also equipping oneself with the necessary skills to listen for the pulses of the PR and media industries as well.
When you stop to think about it, the most bountiful untapped ideas and lucrative wins are borne out of high quality listening. They require the skills of a sonar technician and need us to hear things others can’t, or never would.
News-monitoring, trends and the cut and thrust of highly-topical, multi-platform social media conversations is listening, and perhaps the best example of that. These information rich snapshots can be the best barometer in gauging sentiment and informing future communications.
By understanding the type of social media content people are consuming, you can adopt the tone of messages, plan content, and obsess over timing and delivery of communications, thereafter.
At the same time, it is imperative to keep your ear to the ground in the industry in which your client operates, in order to supplant them into the industry’s cox seat.
It is imperative to understand how individuals explore, and how they engage with organisations. At Blueclaw we do this by using a whole suite of media and communication technologies. This intimate knowledge and deep understanding is required to achieve two-way communication, dialogue and, most crucially, meaningful relationships.
Without listening, brand perception and reputation-affecting issues that may boil to the surface could easily be missed. Accurate listening allows for detection of undertones, both positive and negative, which can be surfaced or closed down through high-quality, razor-sharp PR.
There’s no doubt that listening enriches our public relations work, it adds breath, depth and confidence to everything we do at Blueclaw. It is that confidence, and surety, that lifts our work above everything else.
Listening is barely discussed in public relations literature, while a quick look on some of the leading job websites overwhelmingly prioritise the demonstration of “excellent written and verbal communication skills; planning, delivering, writing and such like – but not listening.
Does our 131-year-old industry have a blind spot? Is it intangible? Yes, yes it is. But it doesn’t make it any less critical to high performance than any other key skill.
If you are to take one thing from reading this, then adopt a listen-first approach and reap the benefits.
We’re in an era of tone-deaf statements and misguided PR strategy, stemming from our ineptitude for listening. And why? Well I’m not quite sure actually, especially as it costs nothing! Next time you are writing a media release, some blog copy, an email newsletter, or similar, keep in mind that to provide meaning, we must first listen!
And finally, the last time I took to the blogosphere I wrote about the profound power of storytelling and how stories create culture.
I spoke of how Blueclaw’s story had zig-zagged since 2007; the ups, the downs, client wins, knockbacks, staff arrivals, people moving on and becoming success stories in their own right, and the constantly evolving brand. Now it can add another exciting, new chapter to its story, having been acquired by global digital publishing group XL Media Plc.
So I thought it pertinent to echo the sign-off from that particular post. While much of what I listed just now represents the changing face of the business, of any business really, there is one constant – the culture.