By Heather Claycomb
A simple way I sometimes define the field of public relations to those who aren’t quite sure what I do with my time, is that it involves intentional communications and actions to build reputation and relationships.
Over the past two years, the pandemic has given many organisations an opportunity to really ‘show their spots’ in these two areas. Those who have deliberately focused on upping their game in the communications space have maintained and even enhanced their reputations through it all.
These purposeful activities served to help maintain relationships too – but only to a point. I believe it’s fair to say most organisations found it difficult to build new and enhance existing relationships during this time. That’s because a large part of maintaining and building relationships with those who are important to us is the need to ‘relate’ face to face.
While Zoom calls and Microsoft Teams chats keep information flowing, these hands-off, virtual meeting places are a poor substitute for true relationship. We are human, after all! We need human connection to feel complete. We’ve always thrived in partnerships and groups, going right back to the dawn of the human race. And in 2022, the basic human need for relationship is no different.
Relate means to “make a connection.” Connect means “to bring together so that a real or notional link is established.” It’s very difficult to connect without, at some point, being with someone in a physical space, observing the emotion in their eyes, reading their body language and shaking hands (or bumping the odd elbow!).
My challenge to you is that very soon our business community must prioritise reconnection – our internal organisation cultures and commercial relationships are crying out for it. For many organisations, we’ve tried hard to maintain our reputations over the past two years by refreshing our frequency of internal and external messaging while being forced to abandon physical connection with staff, customers, partners and communities.
The good news is that the time for reconnecting relationships is only months away. You have a window of opportunity now to plan to get this right. Remember, too, that the reputation and relationship sides of the PR equation move in tandem. When you enhance the one, the other improves markedly as well.
To get ready, here are a few purposeful actions your organisation should plan for now and be ready to implement from mid-year.
Think about the rest of your year and put some face-to-face interactional events in the diary now. It’s something every organisation should consider. How about an all-staff conference or team day out? To reconnect with customers, you could think about a series of small events in the provinces, such as a roadshow to showcase new products or share information helpful to your audience.
When it comes to in-person events, I believe smaller is better during 2022 until people become more comfortable getting together post-Covid.
Balance casual vs purposive
Don’t overthink this reconnection stuff. Sometimes the best thing you can do is simple catch up with someone for a coffee. But I would say balance out the casual chats with reconnection that is purposeful. It’s important to remember, as always, your audiences are time-poor just like you. So, as you are planning reconnection, think about how you can offer your staff, customers or whomever some ‘value’ from each interaction.
Prioritise the individual
Reconnection needs to focus on the personal. You can’t truly reconnect by putting on a massive event like a conference for hundreds of people. You need to find ways to have great conversations and network with individuals. It will take more time, but it’ll be worth it.
Demonstrate your commitment
As you reconnect, find authentic and humble ways to share with others what you are up to. You might want to take some photos at a small event and write a story in an e-newsletter. You might want to do a few posts about a client event on LinkedIn. You’ll win some reputation and relationship brownie points with your wider audiences by demonstrating more widely the care you are taking to prioritise those who are important to your organisation.