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Effective communications principles are universal

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Last night the Northwest Arkansas Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America conducted its monthly meeting at the Fort Smith Museum of History.

Historical interpretation professor Tom Wing talked to the professional communicators about connections – between historical interpretation and public relations, and between facilitator and audience.

Linda Kaufenberg of the City Wire staff filed this report.

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Interpretation Principle 1 – Relate

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Note: This is the third in a series of posts about the relationship between the disciplines of public relations and interpretation.

“Any interpretation that does not somehow relate what is being displayed or described to something within the personality or experience of the visitor will be sterile.”

Freeman Tilden’s first principle of interpretation, as outlined in Interpreting our Heritage, is that we must meet the audience where he or she is – physically, intellectually, and emotionally.

Tilden writes:

The visitor is unlikely to respond unless what you have to tell, or to show, touches his personal experience, thoughts, hopes, way of life, social position, or whatever else. If you cannot connect his ego (I use the word in an inoffensive sense) with the chain of your revelation, he may not quit you physically, but you have lost his interest.

In your daily work as a communications professional, how can you better relate your company’s message to key audiences? Please share your thoughts or ideas.

Written by Tracy Winchell

December 8, 2008 at 11:39 am

Engaging audiences – the message and the medium

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Note: This is the second in a series of posts about the relationship between the disciplines of public relations and interpretation.

Engaging audiences where they are is the key to successful communications.

Today, audiences are everywhere – and they’re generally not content to simply watch or listen. Engaging constituencies is more than a back and forth converstation; it’s non-linear, with many people participating.

Instead of only chasing new technologies, perhaps we as professional communicators would do well to also study the work of Freeman Tilden as a guideline for utlizing any communications tool.

Several years ago, a friend introduced me to the discipline of interpretation which, as defined by the National Association for Interpretation, is this:

Interpretation is a mission-based communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections between the interests of the audience and the meanings inherent in the resource.

Forging emotional and intellectual connections. Sounds a little like “engaging hearts and minds,” doesn’t it?

In studying and practicing these concepts as part of several successful public relations campaigns, I’ve often thought that the fusion of interpretation and public relations could be a powerful field of study and practice. In fact, I couldn’t understand why someone hadn’t already seen a connection between the two disciplines.

One Saturday morning I was reviewing Tilden’s masterpiece Interpreting our Heritage and, for some reason, decided to thumb through R. Bruce Craig’s forward to the 50th anniversary edition of my fairly-worn copy. I knew that Tilden had been a journalist and a fiction writer. A careful read of the bio revealed this:

  • In 1941 Tilden – then in his late 50’s – approached the National Park Service about a writing position. He was hired to fill a public relations role.

[Newton] Drury [then-director National Park Service] knighted Tilden with the title ‘administrative assistant’ and gave him carte blanche to roam the National Park System. His charge: to formulate a plan for public relations and interpretation. [emphasis mine]

Tilden didn’t invent the concept of interpretation but through his public relations work with the National Park Service, he certainly “provided substance to the craft,” as described by R. Bruce Craig.

In future posts, we’ll take a closer look at the 6 principles of interpretation as outlined in Tilden’s timeless work. 

By using these principles, professional communicators will become more adept at forging intellectual and emotional connections with audiences across every available platform. Isn’t that the objective? To meet and engage audiences where they are?

Introducing a pioneering communicator

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Note: This is the first in a series of posts about the relationship between the disciplines of public relations and interpretation.

Have you ever heard of this man?

Freeman Tilden.

In the coming weeks I’d like to connect communicators with Tilden.

A few years ago a friend introduced me to Tilden and his work. I’ve used the concepts he pioneered and have been amazed at how quickly the principles this man developed decades ago can engage audiences and motivate them to act.

My next post – a brief introduction to historical interpretation and how the discipline is closely related to the practice of public relations.

Written by Tracy Winchell

December 4, 2008 at 3:53 pm