I met a guy recently who asked what I do. I normally hate this question because most people don’t understand what I do, regardless of how I try explaining it. I decided to keep my answer short and succinct (for me). I simply said that I run a communications agency, that we do media relations and PR for technology companies.
As a clinical psychologist and business-owner, I was confident that he would get it. But his answer not only surprised me but also reminded me that when PR fails, it is generally for the same reasons year in and year out. He started by saying that he doesn’t really understand PR. OK no biggie, I thought, nor do most people. Then he dropped the bomb. He had been working with a PR company for the past eight months and still didn’t get it! And not just any PR company, but one of the big fish, the expensive ones and he seemed disgruntled and not in the least a PR fan as a result.
I asked him why and do you know what he said? “I don’t think they understand our business.” After eight months? Where is the insight, depth and proactive approach that PR is best known for?
Over the past two decades, I have seen PR fail for the same reasons, often a combination of small and silly errors, bad writing or a general feeling that “they don’t understand my business”. It may seem like a cop-out and a way to terminate a relationship without getting specific, but by not understanding the business, every avenue of PR is compromised.
How do you add any value if you don’t know what the business is about and what macro elements affect the client’s business? It is this information that assists in building interview motivations, developing thought leadership and spotting PR opportunities. It is not just a once-off job either; it is a constant gathering of information and commitment to keeping information about the relevant business fresh and up to date.
If an agency wants to succeed and find creative and innovative ways to position its client, understanding the business is critical. This goes for the entire team, not just the senior consultant. It is this research and interest in the business that often prompts awesome ideas at random times.
Most of mine tend to happen when I am in the shower or brushing my teeth.
Because I am always thinking, always plotting, always trying to find ways to position my clients, shift perceptions and create awareness using the full gambit of PR arsenal. As for the guy with his a-list agency, I doubt the contract will be renewed and he will more than likely abandon PR for a while before finding the courage to try again. That is normally when I meet them, jaded and confused and it is my job to prove PRs’ worth. I like to consider this community service as well as business as usual.
Samantha Watt is the owner and manager of Watt Communications.
IMAGE: Wikimedia Creative Commons