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Posts Tagged ‘Principles of Interpretation

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?