Richard Edelman has said that public relations is a mindset, not a tool. To truly make a difference and create successful campaigns, we practitioners need to connect in meaningful ways and then use these interactions smartly.
I was recently reminded of this “mindset” approach while working on a new business pitch for an agricultural company with colleagues from one of Edelman’s European offices. My colleagues crafted an incredibly innovative digital communications campaign for the farming community with social media at its core. But would it work?
Doing our due diligence, my team set out on a road trip to interview a few farmers in the Toluca area, about an hour drive away from Mexico City. The realities of the farmers’ lives were worlds away from ours. Moreover, they were universes away from the lives of their farmer counterparts in Europe. Twitter, hashtags and SMS. Popular tools to be sure, but not the way to engage in dialogue with rural Mexican farmers.
“We struggle when we don’t have rain, but only God knows how he sends things to us,” our first interviewee began explaining. Not surprising for a deeply devout country like Mexico, it turns out that farmers truly place a considerable amount of the crop success in the hands of God.
“Today, the tractors and machinery ruin the land,” continued our second conversation. While there are massive corporate public affairs campaigns teaching about new technologies that can end up benefiting everyone involved, the message is clearly not being transmitted or understood by everyone.
“Twitter…? What’s Twitter?” ended our last conversation.
It is crucial to understand people and where they come from. Using the latest and greatest technology may not always be the best approach. Showing up differently is not just about using innovative tools, it is also about consistently ensuring a genuine connection with others.
Bertha Merikanskas leads marketing and business development efforts for Edelman in Latin America.