Fortified in Houston

November 3, 2011

Public affairs conference on Marcellus Shale reinforces core beliefs of public relations

This week offered a rare opportunity for me to speak in front of 120 public affairs professionals drawn from top energy firms from across the country. The topic was Marcellus Shale, an issue near and dear to my heart and of great controversy here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

More important than what I said, is what I heard from other speakers, all top minds in the industry. Their messages fortified me in many ways, because all too often I find myself defending the power and purpose of public relations.

Yet, there in Houston, surrounded by many whose job it is to provide voice and balance to an industry habitually under fire, I walked away re-energized in delivering the message to clients large and small. Here’s just a sampling of what I heard:

1. The need for enterprises to tell their story and control their narratives has never been greater. It was said time and again, in ways big and small. If an organization isn’t telling its story, its competitors, antagonists, and opponents are doing it for them. In other words, as one speaker summed it up, “If you don’t have a seat at the table, someone else is eating your lunch.”

2. Engagement is key to earning the public trust. It’s only by listening and engaging antagonists that companies can show themselves to be open to scrutiny, fearless of the outcomes. When right is on your side, then it’s incumbent upon you to speak out against lies, misconceptions, and untruths.

3. Relationships still matter with the public, with the press, and with stakeholders. Relationships build brand equity to be withdrawn when issues or problems occur.

4. Facts aren’t enough. Emotions are what win the public heart and souls. By embedding emotional messages in unexpected, relevant places, enterprises give the silent majority the messages they need to balance the debate at the grassroot level.

5. The concerns of the lunatic fringe often mask the real concerns of the majority. Ferreting out the real concerns and addressing them can move the conversation forward, instead of keeping it stuck in the slogans and fear mongering of those who oppose all change, progress, or advancement.

There in Houston, I heard so many echoes of myself. Thanks to those who participated. Your thoughts and insights strengthened my revolve and love of all things communications.

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