Growing up, I went into battle with my parents on many issues. I took a sword to their asking me to clean the bathroom I shared with two little brothers. I put up a shield of excuses whenever they asked me to help with the dishes. I threw spears into many of their desires and wishes regarding my actions and choices. However, there was one wish I could not defeat, although I tried with all my might. My mother would not let me quit playing piano. There were many days that I’d fight, and others when I’d give up only to stare at the small piano in the corner of the dining room like it was killing my soul.
My mother would harken back to the story of her childhood piano lessons. She’d tell me how she’d given up after a couple of years and recalled the regret of not sticking with it. “That’s why you have to keep going. I don’t want to you look back and regret giving up,” she’d say. I ended up taking piano lessons from 1998 until 2008. I’m glad my mother never let me stop. Being able to sit down on the piano bench and look at music written hundreds of years ago is nostalgic enough. Being able to express what the composer felt through my own fingertips, and for a moment to feel the emotion in the song, makes all those years of lessons and mind-bogglingly boring music theory worth it.
Currently, I don’t have a piano in my home now that I’ve moved away from my parents. Therefore, that’s one of my favorite reasons to visit their house. I can go upstairs into the library and play to my heart’s content. The last time I sat down to play I realized that music, specifically music composition, and public relations have a lot in common. That may seem like a far stretch, but let me explain. Music starts out as an idea, emotion or story inside the head of the composer. The challenge is taking that idea and putting it on paper in such a way that others can understand.
I’ve discovered that boring music theory is actually the key to expressing exact emotions, ideas or stories through music. I read an article on music theory and it said theory is like a composer’s tool. On the page, classical music is made up of symbols, notes and words. These all communicate something to the musician. They are the tools. This allows musicians to read the music. If they read it right, and if the composer chose the correct symbols, notes and words, then it will sound how the composer intended. In order to clearly communicate the idea, emotion or story through music, the composer has to first understand what they want to communicate, and then communicate it clearly. One music theory website called these “expression marks.”
Much like music composition, public relations is about communicating the right message (the idea, emotion or story) clearly. The HB Agency of Massachusetts refers to this as finding the right “voice” for a company or brand. As public relations professionals, we need to understand the message we want to communicate, and then clearly and articulately communicate it. Clarity is vitally important to public relations, but also communication in general. If you aren’t clear, one article listed many damaging repercussions, such as lawsuits, confusion, upset customers, etc.
During my college career, I’ve learned a lot about senders (think composer) and receivers (think musician). In public relations, in most cases we are the sender and the audience is the receiver. One author explained that, “the meaning of the words and message should be the same to both the sender and the receiver.” Just as 15th century composers wanted people to play their music today, public relations professionals want the audience to understand the same message we’re working to communicate.
As I said before, clear communication is important in general. Take advertising, for example. Clarity in what advertisers communicate is essential. However, I’d argue that it is even more important to public relations professionals because we typically deal with earned instead of paid media. In Parry Headrick’s blog post, he explained that advertisers pay for their media space and thus have control over the message. In public relations, we send out the information or message to the media, and because it is earned, we no longer have control. If we haven’t been clear, the media may not communicate the same message we wanted and the audience will not hear what we wanted to communicate.
That’s why I recommend a thorough knowledge of words, grammar, punctuation, spelling and writing styles. I may have thought these were boring at first, just like music theory, but they are the backbone of public relations. Without them, we cannot clearly communicate the idea, emotion or story of the brands and companies we represent.