What the Duck? Birds, Bread and Public Relations

Opinions, Public Relations Posted May 28, 2014 by chenpr

I paid a visit to Boston Public Garden yesterday to distribute stale bread to the birds. Mallards, Canada geese, sparrows and pigeons, plus a few others I didn’t recognize (my name’s not Audubon, you know). All of them seemed happy to see me. Or, more to the point, all seemed curiously happy about the wads and crumbs I flung into the water and onto the ground as I stood on the shore of the park’s pond—which doesn’t seem to have a name.

duckBecause I had a lot of bread to share, I attracted a lot of birds. And the longer I stood in my place throwing it, the more came to partake in the feast—and the closer the birds dared approach; some of them drawing quite close.

I stood in place, made no sudden or threatening moves, generously doled out tasty morsels, and before long there were birds at my feet gobbling the crumbs that dropped from my hand. Occasionally one or two would look up as forlornly as a bird can and quack their impatience at me for not paying them enough attention. That’s gratitude for ya!

Eventually, I earned sufficient trust from two of the birds that I was able to hand-feed. One of a pair of Canada geese and a male mallard gently took food from between my fingers and off of my palm. Clearly it wasn’t the first time for these extroverted fowl, but the fact that most of the birds kept their distance suggested that not all visitors to the park behave themselves to the flock’s liking. No matter how beneficent, the birds recognized that I still occupy a prominent position at the top of the food chain.

Walking away, I thought about the experience and drew a parallel to my profession (which is convenient for you since it has also inspired this blog).

As a public relations professional, it’s my job to distribute tantalizing food to my audience, and to do so respectfully.

Whether I’m talking with journalists or directly to potential users, the information I have to offer—and the manner with which I offer it—matters not only in the short term, but is vital to building a trusted relationship with that audience. If I have tasty morsels but conduct myself with disrespect, I’ll scare off those I look to feed. If I present myself well but what I have to give out is fetid, I’ll likely not get a second chance to win them over.

But if I take the time to understand what it is my audience wants, how they want it and patiently strive to offer my goods in a way that respects their needs, it’s just a matter of time before I earn the trust of that audience and, in a sense, have them eating out of my hand.