Ever exchange 12 emails with someone in an office next door when a 10-second conversation would do? It happens all the time, at our PR agency and plenty of other companies. And here we thought we were the communications experts!
In award-winning novelist Joe O’Neill’s compelling new book, “The Dog,” the narrator has a tricky relationship with his employers, who are mysterious Middle Eastern billionaires. The situation is so tenuous that the hero spends hours “mental-mailing,” or composing emails he rarely sends but instead uses to decide which channel, if any, will accomplish his goals.
I can identify. PR people and other communications professionals do this also. Since we juggle multiple constituencies, and our livelihood often depends on getting the attention of very busy people, we are well served to be selective about our outreach. It’s easy to hide beyond email, but options for communication should be weighed carefully.
In our experience, every relationship benefits from a mix of multiple contacts and channels, and the forms keep evolving. Here are our best practices when it comes to everyday business communications.
Social media outreach works best when you want to demonstrate that you’re familiar with someone’s work or persona through their published content. Commenting on a blog post or RTing a savvy observation is a great way to progress a relationship. Benign social stalking can also be effective if a media contact or client honcho is particularly elusive. If they’re active on Twitter, by all means, DM. Or, if more of a LinkedIn type, try Inmail. Judicious contact will show persistence and can eventually transition to other, more direct forms of communication.
Texting is effective when you have an established relationship that transcends the “BAU” workday. It’s best used for time-sensitive messaging or to skirt the “official” office communications network, offering a more personal touch. Although it can never be assumed private or secure, texting is recommended when you want to create the feel of “offline” conversation and you have a certain comfort level in doing so.
Email is best when you don’t require an instant answer, as with a program recommendation that requires thought and deliberation, with a workable deadline. It’s also a top choice for regular and frequent project updates, or, naturally, when it’s the recipient’s preferred way to communicate. But email is overused and often not sent thoughtfully. It’s notoriously iffy when conveying sarcasm or edgy humor and an imperfect tool for communicating constructive criticism. Most importantly, don’t email anything you wouldn’t want to see in the news. My draft folder is filled with unsent messages that I thought better of, and that’s a good thing.
The phone is shockingly useful when the email thread is becoming untenable, or ideally, before it happens. Make a call to discuss anything that’s uncomfortable, like criticism of a team member, or sensitive salary or budget negotiations. When I have a fabulous media opp for a top exec, I call them. At the same time, if there’s bad news on any front, a call demonstrates concern and directness in dealing with the situation. PR people strive for regular calls with their day-to-day contacts to stay on top of projects and discuss changes in strategy or direction. These regular touchpoints are key to keeping and building relationships.
Schedule a face-to-face when the information is too complex to convey in a deck or memo, or when building a relationship and striving to earn trust. There are actually key words to use to help master any meeting. MIT researchers actually found that certain words helped participants appear more persuasive, including “yeah”, “give”, “start” and “discuss”. So, yeah! Schedule face-to-face meetings with some regularity and plan time together that’s not directly work-related. That’s healthy communication for any working relationship.