The Zen of Public Relations

By Andrew Waber (@LetsPercolate)

Public Relations and Buddhist theory are not necessarily two concepts one would expect to see side-by-side, but it’s not as outlandish as one may think.

One of my favorite books I read in college was Thich Nhat Hanh’s Miracle of Mindfulness.  Nhat Hanh has been a prominent Buddhist figure since the sixties, having traveled to America to speak out against the Vietnam War, and in 1967 Nhat Hanh was nominated by Martin Luther King Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize.  In Nhat Hanh’s Miracle of Mindfulness, he gives a primer on several Buddhist concepts for the Western reader and, among other topics, explores two particular aspects of Buddhist theory; impermanence and interdependence, both of which are part of living a life “free from suffering.”

Now, I admit that Nhat Hanh was most likely not thinking about public relations when he wrote Miracle of Mindfulness – however, these  two concepts, which were formed at the onset of Buddhism, can be applied to the practice of PR.  Hear me out…

Buddhist concept #1: Impermanence –Nhat Hanh said: “Nothing remains the same for two consecutive moments… Without impermanence, life is not possible. How can we transform our suffering if things are not impermanent? How can our daughter grow up into a beautiful young lady? How can the situation in the world improve? We need impermanence for social justice and for hope.”

What does this mean for PR? Much of what we do as PR pros is time-sensitive. From crafting pitches to distributing press releases, a PR pro’s work should be viewed through this window of impermanence.  Something may be relevant for one week, one month, maybe even a year, but all initial news pegs or trends will eventually lose their relevance, regardless of their “evergreen” quality. Within the world of PR, the smartest professionals are those who are constantly sourcing ideas, searching for new angles and trends, and thinking critically about their client’s ever-evolving industry.

For example, solid pitches require real-time tweaks in order to make them relevant for a specific reporter, publication, or time of year.  One must consider the changing nature of source and subject and “think liquid” – because pitches and ideas should never be set in stone.

Buddhist concept #2: Interdependence – Nhat Hanh gives this example of a piece of paper: “Without sunshine, the forest cannot grow.  In fact, nothing can grow without sunshine.  And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. If we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. When we look at a sheet of paper, it is part of our perception…We cannot point out one thing that is not here…  Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper.”

What does this mean for PR? When working with your clients, above all: understand their business, the competitive landscape and the client’s near-term and long-term priorities/objectives.  To be able to identify industry/competitive trends, it is imperative to know how the current landscape was shaped.

Another example – in reaching out to media, including reporters and bloggers, the concept of interdependence can also be applied to the PR mantra, “know the person before the pitch.” Read up on a selected target’s past writing, and get a sense for their methodology in drawing readers, their target audience, their editorial pressures, etc.

And PR isn’t the only profession being attached to Buddhist theory. A Japanese monk,  “MC Happiness,” is spreading his funkified dharma all over the land of the Rising Sun.  Word up!

4 Responses to “The Zen of Public Relations”

  1. 1 Albert Maruggi September 1, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    Let’s just say the similarity between me and Buddha begins and probably ends at our waistline. However here are some Maruggisms after 25 years of communications work and 20 years of parenting.

    1) Everything is temporary, I kept telling my self this when our five children would get up in the middle of the night crying.

    2) What goes around comes around. If you have sought to be a lasting part of your profession, your commitment will be recognized.

    3) Nothing is a good or as bad as it seems. In our profession some believe you must shout the loudest, make the boldest claims, to gain attention. In some cases, that has short-term success. However, in the long-term, the discussion, the issues, the debate has many twists and turns. Being there to provide a balanced perspective has a career’s worth of benefits.

    all the best to your readers.

  2. 2 SHIFT Staff September 1, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    This is great! Thanks, Albert.

  3. 3 Jules Zunich September 2, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    Great post on a very important subject, as most practitioners are feeling more stress and pressure in this crisis-celebrity-24 hour news filled world. I loved the book LESS by Marc Lesser on the same topic – accomplishing more by doing less – where he talks a lot about mindfulness in the work place. Our lives are not separated by work stress and home relaxation: clarity and balance should be represented in all that we do, including our media relations and client work.

  4. 4 Kimberly January 13, 2012 at 8:15 am

    I really enjoy this article! I was just thinking about combining those 2 aspects together today. Glad to see it in writing!

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