Laura Petrolino

Mother’s Day Lessons for the PR Professional

By: Laura Petrolino | May 9, 2016 | 

Mother's Day Lessons for The PR ProfessionalLaura Petrolino

Hello, my name is Laura and I’m a PR professional and a horrible daughter. 

I didn’t send my mom a Mother’s Day card or flowers! 

When I apologized to her on Saturday she said, “That’s okay. Just write me something nice.”

I’m pretty sure she meant on Facebook, because I’ll often write a little passage about how special both my parents are for their birthdays or other official holidays, but Facebook tributes are so cliche.

I mean everyone writes about their moms on Facebook and I don’t want my tribute to get lost in the mix. Because my mom is the most bombastic bomb of a mom, she needs something special.

So I’m going to do something else that’s cliche, but at least it’s cliche on a much bigger scale (go big or go home, right?).

And write about her here….and what she taught me that applies to my work today—and all of our work—as a PR professional.

Authentic Empathy

Empathy—true, deep, authentic empathy—is a very powerful thing. But too often what we display as “empathy,” and even convince ourselves is such….is really just a superficial filter based on what we think they should feel towards others.

This type of false empathy isn’t necessarily malicious or evil in intent, but simply comes from the fact we are busy people, living in a fast-paced world, and we spend a large amount of our time self-focus because that feels as if it’s the only way we can survive.

My mother, on the other hand, is the most truly empathic person I’ve ever met. She cares for people so deeply and authentically, they flock to her like bees to honey.

No surprise because empathy is something we are voracious for as humans, and find so rarely.

One interesting thing that happens to both of us is this tendency for people to tell us their life stories. I’m talking about their deepest darkest secrets, after only just meeting us.

In my case, I think it’s because I’m open and so desperately want to talk to everyone everywhere they might just do it to shut me up.

In my mother’s case, it’s because her beautiful empathetic nature simply shines everywhere she goes—like a lighthouse on a foggy sea.

As a PR professional empathy is crucial for success.

I’ve discussed the importance before of human connection in pr strategy, customer experience, and customer service, and that is where empathy comes into play.

It’s easy to become automatic and mechanical in how we relate to people, especially when we work digitally.

We can’t.

Listening is the Most Important Part of Communication

Hopefully this is not new news for you. To be successful in any type of communication—interpersonal, professional, brand, consumer…you name it—you must first be a good listener.

If you don’t learn how to listen, really listen, you’ll never be a good communicator. Ever.

Second verse, same as the first (sorry, I’ve had “I’m Henry the VIII” stuck in my head all week…and now you do too, you’re welcome), to be a good listener, you MUST be empathetic.

Otherwise you can listen all you want and it will just come across and Charlie Brown teacher’s “Whomp, whomp, whomp,” it won’t matter and you won’t be able to really hear—not just the words—but what’s being communicated.

We can all hear words, or listen to conversation and buzz, observe trending themes and topics, but without empathy we can’t really hear.

Not surprisingly, my mother is an amazing listener. She listens in a way that helps you understand your own intention better.

She responds—not selfishly—but from a context only possible when one displaces their own agenda.

This means she talks to people from where they are vs. where she wants them to be—and that type of communication resonates deeply.

Talk about secret to messaging success here.

Your number one goal as a communication pro should always be to use language and find a voice that resonates directly with those you are trying to connect with.

It’s not about you—what you like, feel, need, enjoy—it’s about them.

It’s about listening to them from an empathetic standpoint, stopping yourself from assumptions based on your own goals or ideas, and responding to people based on where they are.

Details Are the Threads of Good Stories

When I think back on my amazing childhood, I think about the details: The fun surprises my mom lined up for every holiday; the Valentine’s Day themed lunches; the funny Halloween decorations; the Christmas traditions.

  • I remember how she worked tirelessly to create whatever ridiculous Halloween costume I ever wanted.
  • I remember the fantastic things she did to make my birthdays special.
  • I remember how proud I was to have her be chaperone on school field trips.
  • Or to bring friends over for sleepovers, which she’d always make super special.
  • I remember when she’d pick me during lunch hour for us to eat together.
  • Or little adventures we’d have after school.
  • How she had a pseudo-dinner party for my imaginary friends.

Details. The stories of my childhood are all made up of crazy little details—and that’s what makes them special.

My mom is a master of details. Little things, that if I listed here might sound quirky or insignificant, but in the story of a life the details are what matter.

As a PR professional, you know details make or break you and any great storyteller is only great because of the way they put together details to create a scene.

One of the biggest lessons my mother taught me was the importance of the details.

I remind myself each day to not get too carried away in the rush of the journey I forget to both cultivate and appreciate the details that make it up.

Mom’s Lessons for the PR Professional

My mother is so many things I’ll never be.

We are very similar in some ways, and very different in many others.

But since she raised me to embrace my individuality—unapologetically—I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t want it any other way (although she probably would much prefer I didn’t embarrass her with my horrific laundry skills).

The lessons she taught me, both directly and simply by example, following me through every stage of my life and everything I do—as a human and a PR professional.

Thanks, mom.

Photo credit: Probably my dad (I love this picture because it’s one of a very few that I see so much of myself in my beautiful mother…and that makes me happy).

About Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

  • Hey there Laura,

    Wonderfully thoughtful and introspective post – love it, Gini should give you the Monday morning as the designated day for a regular series.

    I love the part about empathy – too many people use that word, but don’t really use it correctly. There’s a big difference between empathy and understanding, which many people mistake the two for.

    To be truly empathetic, you need to have lived that moment, or experienced that pain (or joy). Otherwise, you can only hope to try and understand what someone is going through.

    My wife is an Empath, and seeing her being able to feel the emotions of others is quite something. I think our son, Ewan, is going to be the same (his report card highlighted his skill at putting the feelings of others first).

    Here’s to all the true empathy feelers out there.

    • Laura Petrolino

      Yes, wouldn’t it be lovely if I could do every Monday morning…alas Monday spotlight stealing scoundrels are always trying to hack my spot! Darn it all! (And you know I mean business when I throw out insults anchored by alliteration…..that’s the kind of thug life I live).

      Regardless, definitely joining with you for a big cheers to all the true Empaths . To Paula’s point below, it has to be challenging and at times exhausting to truly feel the emotions and burden’s of others. But such a blessing for those around them.

      • side note: I love alliteration (even insult-anchoring alliteration)!

      • Hey, Princess Leia likes scoundrels, so they can’t all be bad!

        It reminds me of DareDevil (the awesome Netflix version) and the tiredness/fear/unknown emotions Matt feels as a child, hearing all the noises around him and unable to pin them down, or dull their intensity.

        Only when he was trained in that skill did he fully realize his power, and come to terms with it. I can only imagine folks that have a higher sense of empathy are the same. Minus the nunchuks, of course.

        • Gini Dietrich



  • I came here for some Monday morning inspiration and that’s what I got! Thank you.

    I especially like your point about responding based on where people are, not where you want them to be. All your research and strategizing can fall flat on its face if you are putting it through your own filter.

    • Laura Petrolino

      <3 Ah…well that made me day! So thank YOU!

      It's so hard not to really accept where someone is at and respond accordingly…especially if that's not where we want them to be (which is often the case).

  • Laura–

    I love the go big or go home tribute to your mother.

    Every mother deserves their special tribute regardless of size or audience. It’s about the relationship and acknowledgement on both sides.

    It’s your ability to appreciate each person’s specialness that’s important for PR professionals (and almost every other type of worker.)

    Happy marketing,

    Heidi Cohen
    Actionable Marketing Guide

    • Laura Petrolino

      Thank you so much Heidi. I love how you put that “your ability to appreciate each person’s specialness.” That’s so true, and such a great reminder.

  • There are so many great things about this post I don’t know where to begin! Let’s start with the fact that you apologized the night BEFORE Mother’s Day for not having gotten her anything — which is both a way of saying you weren’t going to cop out by sending an e-gift-certificate and your way of motivating yourself to write your Monday morning blog post. 🙂 /// Anyway, the parallels you drew were great. I’ve been told I have the gift of empathy (“spiritual gifts” theory among the faith crowd being a different topic for a different post) — to a degree it’s true (hopefully) but it can actually be almost painful to absorb the angst of others — meaning she is a true mom in the fact that she probably sacrificed some of her own energy in order to help others cope with theirs. And lastly, I loved the “displacing her own agendas” line …. when I did my book review this weekend, one line I loved but cut because I was running out of room was a three-part leadership model: “Listen to the people, empower them, and trust them” – sort of fits for your awesome #PetroMom too! 🙂

    • Laura Petrolino

      ohh…I love that leadership model. What book?

      • It was so good: Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family. I didn’t include that model in my blog because I had already written so much about other takeaways that spoke to me and was running out of room but here’s the long version of my thoughts on the book:

  • Fantastic post Laura. What a lovely way to pay tribute to your mom.

    • Laura Petrolino

      Ah…thanks Hilmarie!

  • Gini Dietrich

    I would just like to state, for the record, that I gave you a brilliant idea for a gift for your mom and you chose to ignore me. We could have avoided this whole thing. And I’m sure Oliver and George are sad they weren’t able to showcase their artistic sides.