Empathy is Needed More Than Ever

By Jim Young

It goes without saying 2020 was a very challenging year for all of us, both personally and professionally. Very few people are in the same space as they were a year ago and we’re all still trying to get our arms around what the new norm means for our business practices. It was also a very trying year for our clients, potential clients and reporters.

Empathy tops my list of necessary skills for public relations pros in 2021 and beyond. It’s no longer a soft skill, rather one that should be embedded in the DNA of every organization and client interaction. How do you plan to plan to incorporate empathy into your public relations practices this year and why should you?

Last year changed a lot of organizations’ business models in every way imaginable and it would be foolish to think that things have changed drastically with a flip of the calendar. The public relations industry was no different, as we were challenged to do more with less while still being expected to deliver high-end results to our clients. Big, bold ideas accompanied by bells and whistles come with a price most budgets can no longer support. It’s more important than ever to listen to your client’s needs and help them make the most use of their resources by delivering a targeted strategic communications plan optimized to reach the right audiences on the right channels at the right time.

Understaffed newsrooms, expanded roles and fierce competition continue to place reporters under tremendous pressure. Take the extra time to tighten up your pitch by putting yourself in the shoes of the reporter and ask rhetorically, “Why should this story be important to this reporter and what interest does it have to his/her readers?” Make sure emails to reporters are well-researched and have a personal touch – it will go a long way in demonstrating sincere engagement.

We can all be better listeners. I love J. Richard Clarke’s quote of, “Seek first to understand before being understood.” Whether it’s understanding a client’s needs or brainstorming with your team, active and empathetic listening is a critical skill in any field, especially public relations. It conveys you are willing to look at every possible angle to best serve your client and organization. Let’s remind ourselves to check in with our colleagues, clients and reporters more to see how they are doing – and show you really care about their answer.

As President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Everyone is still going through a lot of stuff these days – at home and in the workplace. Empathy and compassion are not only admirable traits, but essential in today’s PR landscape.

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