Empathy As a Strategy for Public Relations Professionals


Joe ChecklerBy Joe Checkler, Senior Media & Content Specialist, Peppercomm

Empathy: It’s rarely discussed in public relations, but it just might be the most underrated weapon in your arsenal.

When you think of empathy, you probably envision yourself putting a hand on a friend’s shoulder and saying, “I’m sorry your hamster died.” And sure, it was nice of you to console your friend, but empathy is about so much more than a pat on the shoulder. It’s the ability to put yourself in the shoes of someone else, and look at the world from their point of view.

Imagine yourself sitting at a cluttered desk in a newsroom. Listen to the keyboards going click click click, as a loud colleague negotiates the definition of “on background but not for attribution.” Look down at that half-eaten buffalo chicken wrap calling for another bite, as another email hits your inbox, this one from your editor asking you where the hell the story is. The only thing that could make this moment more perfect is a phone call from a random PR person pitching you an embargoed press release with the unsurprising results from a survey that’s only tangentially on your beat? Right? Wrong.

It’s no secret that with print advertising revenue dying its terminal death, traditional newsrooms are shrinking fast. Reporters are under enormous pressure to churn out more copy, join and lead the conversation on social media, all while competing with rival news organizations, and – out of nowhere – a growing number of companies and brands that have become more sophisticated at telling compelling stories. End consumers of news and information care less and less about where they get their information from, as long as they get it fast.

This disruption to the status quo might seem scary, but it shouldn’t be. For public relations professionals, it’s an opportunity to think differently. Take an extra second to put yourself in the shoes of an end user and think, “What about this would most likely be compelling to me?” Then, take another second to think like a journalist and ask, “What about this is most digestible and interesting for an end user?”

More and more, the result might not be a standard press release. It might be a search of the reporter’s prior stories for a particular trend he or she has covered, followed by a short email along the lines of, “Do you have a minute? I want to run something by you that could work as a follow-up to that story you wrote last week.” That’s what reporters want nowadays. They want brevity, they want someone who’s knowledgeable about what they do, and they want interactions that lead to results.

Just like you don’t need to be a brain surgeon to understand brain surgery is hard, you don’t need to be a journalist to know journalism is under pressure and things are being done differently. All it takes is a little bit of empathy.

 About the Author: Joe Checkler recently joined Peppercomm as a senior media and content specialist, after nearly 11 years covering hedge funds and bankruptcy at The Wall Street Journal. He lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. 


1 Comment

  1. Amy Shanler on at 7:42 AM

    I agree, Joe, about the importance of empathy. In fact, this applies beyond media relations, too. Empathy plays a critical role in building any mutually-beneficial relationship. From clients to investors to employees to journalists – even opponents- if we listen, we can empathize, and come to a more meaningful understanding of our stakeholders’ needs. Then, the next steps we take really matter. Thank you for highlighting this important skill.

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