Updated: Dec 12, 2018
Growing up, I remember reading "Something from Nothing" with my mother at bedtime. When I was allowed to pick 2-3 books from the shelf, "Something from Nothing" was consistently my top choice - followed closely behind by "Marti and the Mango" or "The Pigeon Finds a Hotdog". I guess I enjoyed reading about food as child. And not much has changed. (You can find the latest editions of Restaurant News and Food Network magazine on my desk).
Anyway, "Something from Nothing" is a modern adaptation of a Jewish folktale. The story follows a boy named Joseph. When Joseph is born, his grandfather makes him a beautiful blue blanket. As Joseph gets older, the blanket becomes tattered and worn out. Over the years, Joseph’s grandfather recycles the blanket material turning it into a jacket, a vest and later a tie. When there is only a tiny bit of material left, the grandfather makes Joseph a cloth covered button. But when Joseph loses the button, even his grandfather cannot make something from nothing.
At age five, I loved this book for its illustrations and its rhymes. But at age 21, I think back and love this book because of its parallelism to the field of public relations.
Public relations is a client services line of work. At a public relations agency, like Bluestone Communications, we are reactive to our clients needs. We provide services like primary research and social media counseling. We diagnose problems and solve problems everyday. But rarely are we faced with new problems.
It was at a recent visit to Porter Novelli’s DC office, that something similar was said about the public relations field: “There are no new problems. Only new solutions to old problems.” I think it was Kendra Kojcsich, VP of Porter Novelli, who made the remark - but i’m not certain.
Nevertheless, this comment stuck with me. Is it true that thousands, maybe millions, of public relations practitioners wake up each day and address the same communication problems we were facing 20 years ago? Essentially, yes.
Not being able to successfully reach the 18-24 year old demographic? Old problem.
Not getting the media attention your innovative product deserves? Old problem.
And not knowing what to say to the public when your company messes up big time? Old problem.
You get my point.
Yet, because these communication problems are predictable and almost formulaic, does that make the job easy? Absolutely not. It’s the “new solutions” part that keeps public relations practitioners working around the clock. With each generation or era, there is new technology and new ways to communicate. It’s the public relations practitioners job to stay informed on these trends and anticipate these shifts.
Otherwise, addressing old problems with old solutions will not yield favorable results.
You're not going to successfully reach the 18-24 demographic without displaying your message somewhere on social media.
You're not going to win your small technology client any media coverage by failing to conduct research and missing out on the popular tech bloggers in their area.
And you're not going to rebuild brand trust for your client in a long winded apology statement that is only being disseminated through the front page of your client’s website. Nope, not in 2018.
At the core, public relations is diagnosing the old problem and thinking of the new solution. And wasn't that the message behind Joseph’s story in "Something from Nothing"?
Clothes become worn out over time. This is no secret. Yet, as Joseph’s blanket becomes worn out, his grandfather addresses the dilemma with creativity and skill. He reinvents the blanket into a jacket, giving the material new life. He applies a new solution to an old problem. A life long lesson that I was introduced to at a young age, now fuels the industry I will work in for years to come.