Person-to-Person Communication: The Human Side of Public Relations

April 15th, 2013 | Kirk Hazlett | 54 Comments

The Invisible Man

(Ed: Today’s Tax Day in the U.S. Are you all squared away?)

I had an interesting (to me) exchange of thoughts with a reader of my own blog recently on the subject of person-to-person communication.

I had written about a reassuring experience I had in a restaurant during which the young woman who took my order had initiated and maintained eye contact every time she came to my table.

Image: bobfranklin via Flickr, CC 2.0

The reader seemed to be of the opinion that “person-to-person” contact was not so important.

That we should be exploring ways in which to improve our online communications. Apparently, to him, that is the area that needs some touch-up.

To a certain degree, I’m on his side…we should pay attention to that aspect of the process.

After all, online communication is rapidly becoming the default means of maintaining contact with friends, clients, media representatives, and other living, breathing entities.


Let’s not throw the whole kit and caboodle out the window just because it’s so much easier to hide behind an electronic persona and not risk sullying our pristine selves with actual human interactions. I’ve written about this before for Waxing Unlyrical, and will continue to sound off when I feel the occasion calls for comment.

Public relations is just that…relations with the public (aka “human beings”) who have a vested interest in what our client or organization is doing.

Impersonally delivered electronic communication isn’t going to cut it.

Yes, you need to maintain an ongoing dialog with your public, and social media communication, as one example, is a way to accomplish that. But at the end (or beginning) of the day, in-person or, at the very least, telephonic (and I’ll add some of the current-day online platforms like Skype) communication must take place.

There must be a real, live human aspect to the communication if it is to be received and perceived as truly being sincere.

I’ve recently noticed…and this definitely is informal research…an uptick in the desire of my students to actually be with their friends, enjoying their company and sharing real-time observations and experiences.

Communicators today must understand the dynamics of interpersonal relationships

of interacting with others in the moment and not time-delayed as is often the case with online communication. They must be able to recognize and respond to someone else’s reactions.

And that brings me back to my initial thought…that, while we must, no two ways about it, be able to conduct online communication efficiently and effectively, we also must be capable of looking another person in the eye and carrying on a meaningful conversation.

That, to me, is the essence of effective public relations.

As my uncle (according to family myth) was fond of saying when someone would comment on the fact that he didn’t seem too terribly overworked, “Yep, not bothered by too much business.”

While I’m sure he said these words in jest, they have always stuck with me. What’s the value of public relations if you’re “not bothered by too much of the public”???

“Yesterday upon the stair. I met a man who wasn’t there. He wasn’t there again today. Oh, how I wish he’d go away!” ~ William Hughes Mearns “Antigonish” [1899]

(Ed: Don’t forget to join the #measurePR Twitter chat tomorrow from 12-1pm ET… it’s a community edition, so you are the special guest.  Hope to see you there!]

Kirk Hazlett

Kirk Hazlett

Professor at Curry College
Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, holds the position of Associate Professor, Communication/Public Relations, at Curry College; he is also Lecturer in Communications, at Regis College. Kirk has 35+ years’ federal government and nonprofit organization PR experience, followed by nearly 10 years’ undergraduate- and graduate-level college teaching experience. Some of the organizations he has counseled include the Blood Bank of Hawaii, Medical Area Service Corporation and Boston Harborfest. He blogs at A Professor’s Thoughts.
Kirk Hazlett
Kirk Hazlett
Kirk Hazlett

Latest posts by Kirk Hazlett (see all)

Print Friendly
Opt In Image

"A Little Birdie Told Me" could fly into your inbox just once a month. It's Shonali-as-seen-nowhere-else. What're you waiting for?


I just got back from a conference where I got to meet in person people I've known online for years. I have notes I hope to turn into a blog post about how meeting in person, offline, has strengthened these relationships. 

I love digital communication and I believe that it's made it possible to meet and expand on relationships with people who we might otherwise lose or drop from the conversation. But I've become more convinced that person-to-person is more important than ever.

Shonali moderator

@margieclayman talked about this just the other day over at her place... particularly pointing to the tools we have nowadays to help us manage the onslaught of content we curate, and how we can't let those get in the way of our humanity. That's such an important word, isn't it: humanity? I don't know if you're in her head or she's in yours, but either way, I like the result! Great post, Kirk.

I'm curious - how old was the reader you had the exchange with? I wonder if his reaction is perhaps symptomatic of his generation...


@martinalovric When I got the Echofon alert for a minute I was worried you were talking about me!

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Great post @KirkHazlett I fully agree with you. It is why so many fail at media relations. 

One of the Sage sayings from Direct Sales: If all else remains equal people buy from people they like.

Sometimes the personal connection is the only advantage you have. Never under estimate it's value.


@margieclayman Thanks, Margie! It IS  the humans who gum up things, isn't it?!? Thanks so much for reading and commenting! :-)


@Shonali @margieclayman The reader was in his early 40s, Shonali...not too old...not too young. Perhaps in that "uncertain" period of his life??


@KirkHazlett Certainly! I wanted to leave a comment, but I couldn't get the few words I had to translate into complete sentences.


@HowieG Thanks, Howie. I've always been about the "personal" touch, and have never been disappointed in the ultimate results. It's how I finally realized that my calling was public relations and not some other profession...long story there, but got me where I am today.

I really appreciate your reading, sharing, and commenting!


  1. […] public relations counsel, to me, is about developing and nurturing meaningful mutual understanding among all concerned parties. This, in my mind, implies empowering the other side to form ideas and […]