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).

Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is chief marketing officer for Spin Sucks, an integrated marketing communications firm that provides strategic counsel and professional development for in-house and agency communications teams. She is a weekly contributor for their award-winning blog of the same name. Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

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