PR Legend: Joe. S. Epley


This post is part of The Plank Center’s Legacies from Legends in PR Series that was begun in recognition of the 40th Anniversary of the Public Relations Student Society of America in 2007.Joe Epley 03)6

Founder and retired CEP of Epley Associates Public Relations. During 40 years as a successful PR consultant, served as president of PRSA, chair of the College of Fellows and chair of the Counselors Academy. Founding member of Worldcom Group, an international network independent public relations firms; helped introduce public relations in Russia. Recipient of PRSA’s Gold Anvil award (2008), and member of the Defense Information School Hall of Fame, and the University of North Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s PR Hall of Fame (1991).

The computer and the internet are among the greatest tools invented to enhance the practice of public relations. They provide untold research and communications capability. Yet, they are impersonal and can easily become an addiction. They are only tools.

To be successful, a public relations professional must strike the right balance between technology and real interpersonal communication.

In-person verbal communication is far more persuasive than e-mail. Conversations with eyeball-to-eyeball contact build far greater synergy and bonding relationships than any form of electronic communication. Effective understanding results when there is give-and-take between individuals who are engaging in verbal exchange rather than in either e-mail or cryptic cell phone text messaging.

A basic tenant of our profession is that a message is not complete until the receiver of the communiqué understands it the same as the sender. That is always the challenge.

Granted, many instances require only simple, straightforward mass messages. However, when you expect a positive reaction from a target audience, take care to ensure the messages will be accepted as intended.

A common sin of public relations professionals is to assume that others understand their messages. They make little effort to get into the heads of targeted audiences. Far too often, there is little, if any, effort made to determine if the message is doing the desired job. Mostly it is because the practitioners crafting the message fail to understand the psyche of their audience.

As a child, I remember making disparaging remarks about a poor family with children wearing worn-out clothes and having no toys. My mother overheard me and scolded my insensitivity by saying, “You can’t judge others until you walk in their shoes.” That lesson has been one of the guiding principles in my successful career.

There is no better way to understand fully an audience than to have an intimate feel of that audience, an intimacy that comes from being with them, not just having a quick walk-through where they work or reading a research report.

You should spend time with them. Eat with them. Play with them. Work with them. Be in their homes. Listen to them. Learn what motivates them. Understand their fears. Speak their language. Appreciate their opinions, whether you agree with them or not. This helps you develop messages and themes that they will more likely accept and embrace.

Never assume all people are educated alike or think alike. Many don’t have or effectively use computers. Far too many drop-out of school before 12th grade. People come from different cultures, have varying values, and hold comprehension levels that may not be equal to yours.

In the end, communicating with masses is much easier than influencing the behavior of a few. Being successful in reaching specific groups or individuals require moving to their level with messages they can understand and embrace.

By walking in the shoes of others, messages become more credible, and you have taken an essential step in the right direction.

Published: 2009