The public relations profession can be very humbling — a consequence I’ve experienced almost daily for four decades. For instance, when clients fail to act upon solid strategies, I respect that it is the client’s prerogative. When progressive partnerships, promotions or publicity are discounted, I accept that some business leaders prefer working under the radar to making waves. When I’ve ghostwritten op/eds, articles and speeches — I take pride as others take credit for the positive results.
Am I bitter? Nah. So long as clients are satisfied. Humility is a professional obligation. In fact, I would routinely remind my staff and myself to check your pride at the door.
THE FESTERING NUISANCE
BUT … there is that one impossible to disregard slight: the ignored personal email. Not to be confused with the daily deluge of propaganda everyone is forced to sift through, this complaint is over the urgent, please review, please respond, please decide, yes or no type of personally addressed digital correspondence. C’mon, a brisk “No thanks” takes mere seconds to click off. At least then the sender is not left hanging. A quick “No” is the next best thing to a “Yes,” in other words.
If I am supposed to take no response as representative of your too-hectic schedule or my irrelevance (and obligatory humbleness), please just shoot me a curt “Not interested” or the popular justification “Not enough bandwidth” missive and we can both be done with it. Otherwise, expect to be labelled by default as disorganized, overwhelmed, disrespectful, pretentious or any number of less flattering attributions.
An essay in Entrepreneur (4-7-15) reinforced the negative professional impact of email neglect with this typical progression: “Think of the last time you sent an important email and didn’t get a response. Your first reaction was probably, He’s just busy. After a few days, you wonder, Did he get my e-mail? A few days later, What did I do wrong? Then, invariably, What a jerk!”
NO RESPONSE IS NO EXCUSE
Then again, some people deliberately postpone or ignore responding to emails to signal annoyance or show dominance. “As much as these communication tools are designed to be instant, they are also easily ignored. And ignore them we do,” noted Julie Beck in The Atlantic (1-11-18). “… emails sit in inboxes for so long that ‘Sorry for the delayed response’ has gone from earnest apology to punchline.”
Compare the email snub to walking past someone and not acknowledging their hello or smile. Being too busy to smile is rude. “Whatever boundaries you choose, don’t abandon your inbox altogether,” advises Adam Grant in his New York Times (2-15-19) opinion piece. “Not answering emails today is like refusing to take phone calls in the 1990s or ignoring letters in the 1950s.”
Still too busy. Consider addressing your procrastination from a self-serving perspective. Think of the sender as a connection to the unexpected — to real insight, a profitable opportunity, an averted crisis, even a new friendship. These are the sort of things that reciprocal communication perpetuate. Good public relations is, after all, exploiting the coincidence of doing good for others and for yourself.