Musings of a PR Professional


Chapter 5: Listening, Engaging, and Building Relationships

One of the focuses of this chapter is on how to build strong relationships on the Internet. The book lists five rules of thumb one should look to when he or she is trying to build these relationships. They are:

  • Losing control is more important than trying to gain it
  • Authenticity is crucial
  • Karma banking
  • People are good and helpful
  • There is no one-size-fits all friendship

For this blog post, I would like to focus on the concept of karma banking, because I think it is indicative of a new trend going on in our society today. Karma banking is the process of doing things with and for others online in order to establish a trustworthy, mutually beneficial relationship between your organization and others on the web. The idea is that you won’t get immediate return on your benevolent efforts online, but you are slowly building up a reserve of good deeds from others that you can call upon when needed.

Karma banking is reminiscent of the concept of social capital that we learned about in my mass communication class yesterday. Social capital is the term used to refer to connections between a person’s social networks that influences him or her and leads him or her to action.

So, while a large amount of communication scholars today argue that social capital no longer exists (i.e. Putnam’s “Bowling Alone”), I think it has just changed forms. Karma banking, social capital: Two words, same meaning and both are necessary for facilitating civic engagement in things such as politics and nonprofit causes. Rather than saying “Hi” to your neighbor while out in your yard, you shoot one of your Twitter followers a DM to see what they’re up to. Social interaction is just as important today as it was 40 years ago, it’s just adapting to the times like everyone and everything else.


Relationships enable exposure

If someone were to ask me to define public relations in one word I would say: relationships.

Today in our PRinciples class, we had two guest speakers come in a talk to us about media relations. Kim Banks of Simko Communications and John Gouch of Clemson University’s news services spent our 75 minute class giving us special insight on how to create and send out news releases in the most effective way possible. Pretty much every PR person’s goal at some point is to get as much media coverage as possible, right? That’s true to an extent.

Both Banks and Gouch continually stressed the importance of building relationships with media. Journalists, reporters, editors and everyone else in a gatekeeper position is extremely valuable to a PR practitioner, and it is important to let them know that. Reporters don’t care about the PR practitioners client, they care about their beat, what they’re interested in writing about, and what their audience wants to hear about. So, that’s what the PR practitioner has to be interested in too.

It is absolutely imperative that PR people listen to reporters, journalists, editors. Go out to lunch/coffee/dinner/tea with them without an agenda and learn about who they are as people. The better you know these people, the more likely it is that your news release will get published.

So make friends! The more you know about your media gatekeepers the better you are able to cater to them. Seek out the people you know will be interested in the story you are trying to get published. As Banks said very poignantly, “It’s a give and take.”