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The death of common courtesy? Why responding to all communications is a must


September 3, 2010

Every day, 1.2 billion e-mails race around the Internet. If you consider spam, then you can increase that number by 75 percent.  That’s about two million e-mails per second.  And Twitter claims that users now send more than 50 million tweets per day.  This means that every second, 600 tweets fly across Twitter’s network.

The average user spends more than 55 minutes per day on Facebook.  Add instant messaging, voice mail, text messages and you get the picture.  Today’s PR professionals are inundated with record numbers of messages.  

But in this day of instant communication — where technology can enable communication at any point in time — it appears that many PR practitioners (and others) have lost a level of professional courtesy regarding timely responses to professional e-mail and voice messages.

Respond = respect
Promptly responding to all legitimate professional communications — no matter how brief the response is — will help you develop a professional image that will position you as open, honest and responsive.

And above all, this will help you maintain and solidify professional relationships that will be extremely valuable throughout your career.

Alan L. Gaudynski,  APR, Fellow PRSA, president and CEO of Gaudynski & Associates, a full-service PR agency in Brookfield, Wis., has noticed a growing lack of discernment among many communications professionals regarding which communications require a response and which ones can go unanswered.

“It seems as if many people are on information overload and have become — to a certain extent — desensitized due to the sheer volume of messages they have to field on a daily basis,” he says.

Gaudynski strongly believes that it’s important to stay on top of regular communication — both personally and professionally. “If you don’t respond in a timely fashion, it can have a negative impact on how people view you as a PR professional,” he says. “It drives me crazy when people can’t take the time to send a quick e-mail response to a simple question.”

He makes it a point to turn on his “out of office” e-mail message when he’s gone, he changes his voicemail every day and includes his cell phone number on his outgoing message and in his e-mail signature.

“As PR pros,” he says, “we need to be reachable and responsive. Reporters will call at night and on weekends and I find that prompt responses have helped me build those important relationships.”

24 hours or less?
Despite the fact that people are more connected than ever via iPhones and Blackberrys, they’re not always responding to legitimate professional inquiries the way that they should.

“Everybody’s busy — that’s not a valid excuse. I always try to respond to work-related e-mails and voicemails within 24 hours,” says Matthew Waller, of Milwaukee, Wis. PR firm Laughlin Constable. “But I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t always easy to meet that goal. It’s easy to let things snowball and lose track of important e-mails and voicemails.”

Christine Hoek, APR, principal of Articulate Communications in Hudsonville, Mich., sees an opportunity in today’s avalanche of communications.

“People have a perfect opportunity to differentiate themselves in this day and age by responding promptly and completely to legitimate professional communications,” she says. “It makes you look detail-oriented — and frankly, many people today aren’t detail-oriented.”

Hoek continues, “When you take the time to respond — no matter how brief the response — it goes a long way and will pay dividends again and again.”

Her advice: Develop a personal response strategy to manage professional communications. “Have a plan, especially if you’re handling multiple accounts,” she says. “It can get overwhelming and you can get buried. Regroup, reorganize and stay on top of [the communications] so you don’t find yourself in a hole again.”

Volume control
Here are a few basic tips to effectively keep up-to-date on the communications that bombard us on a daily basis:

  • Set specific times to respond — Once in the morning and once later in the day will help you stay current and prevent you from being distracted by every random message that pops up in your inbox.
     
  • Read and respond appropriately — Read your messages in their entirety. If a message asks for specific information, then make sure that your response provides it. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting a response that doesn’t provide any useful information.
     
  • Set out-of-office e-mail and voicemail messages — It’s easy.  Just do it.
     
  • Tap into social media tools — Many people don’t have the tools in place to manage the torrent of communications. Easy-to-use programs like TweetDeck, a Twitter aggregator, are excellent tools for tracking tweets.
     
  • Return media calls promptly — Media calls and e-mails reside in a special category. Prompt replies, regardless of how controversial the issue is, will help you build credibility with key media contacts.
     
  • Avoid social media landmines — Always remember that Facebook and Twitter posts are often available for all to see — your co-workers, your boss, your competitors, your spouse and your kids. Keep that in mind as you post messages.
     
  • Avoid emotionally charged responses — Provoked or not, don’t let your written responses incite a flame war. A phone call or face-to-face discussion can go a long way to diffuse potential problems.
     
  • Are there messages or e-mails that are OK to ignore? —  Yes. It’s fine to ignore unsolicited sales pitches and blast e-mails that don’t relate directly to you. But you never know when a contact with that company may come in handy.

As communicators, our responsiveness to all appropriate messages is a measure of our professionalism and ability to handle today’s fast-paced PR environment. Managing your daily professional communications will pay both long- and short-term dividends.

Michael A. Pflughoeft, APR Michael A. Pflughoeft, APR, is the owner of Milwaukee-based MAP Communications and has more than 25 years of PR experience. He is a past president and the former ethics officer of the Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter of PRSA.
Email: mapcomms at wi.rr.com



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