The Beneficial Charms of a Transparent Personality
As a PR practitioner with an education and early career in government and politics, I am perhaps overly cognizant when it comes to the power of personality and how those elements shape public policy and campaigns.
It’s refreshing when I meet formal officials and government heads who are “real” and can show a genuine personality.
I once entered an elevator with a former federal official who was a high-profile figure in government investigations. I reminded him that I had been a summer intern when he had been in office, and said something to the effect of, “You probably don’t remember me.” “You’re right,” he said, “I don’t remember you at all.” I thought the answer was admirable and spoke to his level of integrity. That he smiled, chuckled, and offered a handshake helped, as well.
Another favorite example: In the fall of 2013 in Boston, I walked into what is known simply at Northeastern University as “Dukakis’ Class.” Anyone interested in politics would be remiss (whatever their political views) to not interact directly with someone who was very nearly president of the United States and a beloved former governor of Massachusetts — who introduced himself this way (words paraphrased):
“My name is Michael Dukakis and I owe everyone in this room an apology. Because for those of you who don’t know who I am, if I had done a slightly better job during my campaign, we may never have had President George W. Bush, because I’d have beaten his father George H.W. Bush.”
It was a partisan comment. But it was honest. Had a former Republican governor made a similar quip, I would have admired it, too.
The candor and honesty showed in those moments can and should be displayed in financial and professional services campaigns.
There is an invaluable and intangible benefit to allowing one’s personality to shine through the cavalcade of notions that “playing it safe” is the best approach for a public persona. The platitude of many forms that effectively boils down to “be yourself” is one that I could not believe more strongly in, and that informs my approach to public relations daily.
As a more direct and applicable example, a client who is now a regular guest on CNBC’s Squawk Box has developed a rapport that often involves discussing facial hair on air. Though it may seem ridiculous, it endears the show’s guest to the audience as a human moment, and helps the audience remember his appearance more strongly. In turn, this makes for a more impactful media appearance. The guest in question is extremely bright, and the personality does not overshadow the intelligence or smart discussion.
The perhaps paradoxical reality is that these situations are not natural, and that skilled PR pros can coax these behaviors and situations out of clients.
Interviews – be it for television, a print publication, or even a job – are not a naturally comfortable environment for most people. Through coachings and repetition, we find a few crucial things that can drive home a message supported by a charismatic messenger:
- Practice makes perfect. The above mentioned client developed that rapport over time, and grew to expect certain quips to come – they become less disarming over time, and instead become comforting.
- Preparation is absolutely crucial. There’s no better way to be thrown off your game than to receive a question you weren’t expecting and not having an answer for it. However, if this is the case, it is better to answer honestly that something is not your particular expertise, than to do a blatantly obvious dodge.
- Mistakes will always happen, entrapping yourself in a cycle of concern will never help. If it’s minor, it’s likely no one noticed. If it’s not minor, mistakes will beget more mistakes if they consume your thoughts. Fix them if they’re fixable, and if they’re not, move on and learn from them. This is especially true for an interview format.
- Stay within your comfort zone. Nothing will come off as more insincere than attempting realness where it doesn’t exist. If your true personality is that of an intelligent and coherent policy wonk, allow that to come through, too.
So whether it’s an interview on TV or in person, my professional recommendation is always to highlight personality. Whether that means cracking that quippy joke, or refraining from doing so, there’s an undoubtable responsiveness an audience will have to a person being candid.
Throughout all our efforts to maximize the airtime or ink dedicated to clients, I believe that our work should always be focused on identifying and highlighting what makes them different from the crowd. This can be done while promoting a positive corporate or personal image and brand, and quite often with a sense of disarming honesty and charm.
By Frank Taylor, Director