Let me help you with your PR!
Are you familiar with the scene from Jerry Maguire where Tom Cruise’s character is battling with his client and he moans and begs, ‘Help me help you!‘ The desperation and genuine desire are expertly acted by Mr. Cruise and that scene pretty much sums up my life as a public relations professional.
I spend most of my days living and breathing some form of a call to action (moving, pushing, prodding, enticing, eliciting, and engaging clients) to move forward with their communications plans.
Most do because I am very persuasive, but some do not. And I wonder about that…
Often, it is because no matter how clear I am; no matter how well planned or articulate I am; no matter how much data I have; sometimes CEOs and Entrepreneurs are going to do what they want to do, despite my good advice and vast experience. And so then I practice being quiet, and like a worried mama bird, I just start preparing for the day that they start flopping out of the nest and need me to come to the mend, all along bemoaning the fact that they just would not listen.
But if they did listen, if you listened, what would your public relations team tell you if they could?
Your ideas are random
(I was going to say stupid, but at my house, that is a bad word.) The ideas are not bad in so much as they do not make sense in terms of resources, profitability, market or competition. If your team is always agreeing with you, please start hiring more people – specifically the ones who can and will say no to you.
You are random
You shift and jerk and lunge and dive in so many directions, no one can follow you, let alone be inspired by you. Slow down. Learn to plan. Help people to see the big picture by showing them the way. Oh, you only want big picture people on your team? Well, be prepared for lots of ideas and zero execution.
You are not patient
You want results and you want them now. This attitude is often combined with an attitude that also feels comfortable withholding resources, limiting spending, and has a narrow view of what is worth investing in.
Your media efforts will be a waste of time
No one likes to say this, but there are some clients who insist – yes, I read the Linkedin and Facebook groups for professionals, so I know this is true – that every business decision and option is a press release or news conference waiting to happen. PR professionals know what journalists want to see. They know what has value to the media. They know which stories have a good chance of earning placement.
You are selfish
You expect total devotion and professionalism from your staff and any consultant that you work with, but you withhold the same from them, going off with other consultants like a squirrel chasing shiny objects, or ignoring the needs of your team. You do not share information, you do not stick to your agreements, and you do not support the creative environment.
You are embarrassing yourself
You do any or – gasp – all of the above and you think it makes you smart or effective or innovative, but you really are just making an arse out of yourself to your staff and your clients. They talk behind your back and they do not support you as a leader. You are decked out in emperors’ clothes and you think you look hot.
You are fired
Clients need to be fired much more often than they are. Their diva attitudes get away from them and they start treating highly trained professionals like the hired help. Many professionals, out of fear of confrontation or financial need, will keep a client for longer than is beneficial for both parties. They don’t cut the cord, they just let things slip until it is apparent to everyone that the relationship and work are over.
You probably will not ever hear any of the above phrases from your PR professional, or any consultant or employee for that matter. I would never say it. I am too kind and too respectful. However, I might say:
That is an interesting idea, let’s circle back to that one when we have our next steps finalized.
If we can focus our efforts, our results will increase.
Our strategy will take time to plan and properly execute.
Let’s add media relations tactics after we have a solid strategy and story in place.
Branding, PR and media relations is earned and it will take a considerable level of commitment for you to lead your company forward.
We need to take time to assess whether or not our efforts are resonating with our clients.
I feel like your resources would be better used in focusing on key areas, so perhaps we should put PR on the back burner for now.
I speak with many CEOs, small business owners, and entrepreneurs and they all want wonderful magical marketing advice. Often, my best advice is to simply stop what you are doing and to listen not only to what your team says, but what they do not say. And then start asking a lot of questions. Help them help you!
As a consultant and PR generalist, I tend to work with medium and small organizations, many of whom are incorporating public relations strategies for the first time. I spend a significant portion of my time with new clients educating them on what PR is and what they can expect from me as a consultant. I am very honest with people (a given, right?) and one thing that I always emphasize is this: You have to be a good client for me to be a good consultant.
Most laugh, but then I take some time to clarify what it means to be a ‘good client’ because many people do not understand that they (themselves, their team, their company) are part of what makes my work successful. In reality, I can only do my part (which is the bulk of the heavy communications lifting) but the clients’ actions and attitudes make a huge difference. This may seem obvious, but client reactions and actions have an impact on my success. If the client drops the ball or fails to respond instead of jumping in and participating enthusiastically, the results are affected.
In a dozen or so years of communications work, I have seen this play out in many different scenarios.
For example, let’s say (as a totally fictional scenario) leadership loves the idea of PR, but the team doesn’t stand behind it, so slowly, things start getting dropped. Emails go unanswered. Requests and approvals take longer. Evaluations become lukewarm. Suddenly, my work is not up to snuff. I have to push harder to get us where we need to be, often swimming upstream against a tide of naysayers.
On the other hand, if the team is dying for support and direction (they’re overworked or don’t know what to do) and a consultant like me comes in as a leader for the team, suddenly the energy increases, we start to work synergistically, and the C-suite gets the great results they have been looking for. That’s my favorite scenario, but it does not always happen that way.
I have engaged with organizations in similar situations described above and frankly, my work and effort were the same in each case, but the quality and the results were not. The sad-sack team didn’t feel they were getting what they paid for, but the upbeat team loved my work and recommended me to others.
I did not change, but the perception was different in both situations. I applied the same level of skill and experience, the difference is that what was happening internally at each organization had an effect on the process and therefore the results.
Now, of course, all of my current clients are fabulous, but just in case there are potential PR clients out there that need the help of a PR professional, here is what I would recommend making sure you are doing your part.
Top 5 Tips for Being a Great PR Client
1. Know your PR person
Are their skills and experience a match to your organization and do they apply to what you are trying to do? Clarify this upfront, so surprise expectations don’t pop up later. Interview several people or agencies so you get a feel for how others respond to what you are asking for.
2. Know your industry
What is typical in healthcare may be totally out of line for fashion. The basics of good PR always apply, but are you looking for specific results that apply to your arena? Your PR pro is there to help manage expectations, but having a clear understanding of the playing field will be an advantage.
3. Know your company
Seriously study your internal operations and culture before you invite someone in. It is possible that some housekeeping needs to be undertaken before the guests arrive. Is the executive secretary who is completely overworked or the snarky VP of Operations who makes grown men cry the best option to be the main contact for your PR agency? Probably not. Find the most senior person in the organization that supports PR to act as the liaison that to communicate both into and on behalf of the organization. To me this should always be the CEO, but another C-suite executive is a good match.
4. Know your financial limits.
You may feel comfortable paying for the necessary fees related to hiring a PR pro/agency, but if you have a strict budget with zero wiggle room, but then want hours of additional work or outsourced add-ons (such as print or web design) you will be faced with a huge reality check fast. Make sure you understand what services you will be billed for (printing, wire services, travel.) and what other costs might be incurred.
5. Know when to participate.
Do not do the equivalent of a hit-n-run when you hire a PR pro. It is not a one-time meeting and then just send them off to the races so you can get back to work. Your PR agency will be pushing you to engage. If you are hoping to just hand it over and walk away, you need to make a mental adjustment. You have to pay enough attention to be in a position to recognize when things are going well or if you may need to step in to make minor adjustments.
PR pros often work as solo-practitioners, but they are not lone wolves. As the client, you have to work together as a team, and although you rely on them to produce results, your participation and attendance are required.
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