Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Silent but deadly

Choosing a PR firm and choosing whether to date somebody have a lot in common. Mainly, you want them to be excited about you so you have to be excited about them.

Several years ago, I was sitting in my conference room with the marketing director of the Philadelphia-based company that was about to acquire my client, iPing. In attendance were two top iPing executives, and my two-person team which handled iPing publicity.

The marketing director was checking us out to see if he'd keep us on board as the PR agency of record. He asked all kinds of questions about what we thought of the product, how we went about our business, and where we found success. One person on my iPing team pitched in with some anecdotes and explanations. The other one said nothing the whole time.

At the end of the meeting, we were all getting up when the marketing director looked at the person who had said nothing and said to them point blankly "Do you talk?" They stumbled for a second, and said yes, I do. The following week, the marketing director called me to say he'd keep us on but to drop the silent person from the team. I understood and complied.

Switch to another scenario. Conde Nast had advised founding Allure magazine editor in chief Linda Wells to meet with my company to handle the publication's publicity until they found a permanent in-house replacement. I dressed to the nines and brought two successful young staff members, so we could have a discussion together and Wells would get to know people at the company other than me.

Big mistake. My two staffers spent the meeting periodically laughing and giggling at each other. While they were not silent, they treated the situation far more casually than it merited. The next day, Wells called me up and said she welcomed working with my company, but the two people I had brought could not be part of the team.

These were tough lessons for me in my company's early years. I felt burned and for a long, long time was very hesitant to bring anybody with me to meet a potential client. The downside to that was that every client expected they'd be working with me alone, and that was quite difficult as my business was growing and I certainly couldn't do it all. I had to make sure my staff instilled confidence in clients so they knew I was not going to be the day to day person. Slowly I brought staff back into new client pitches, but only after I wrote up a strategy guide for them on what to do for these occasions and talked with them about it.

Public relations does not seem to be the profession meant for the wallflower or the meek. After all, you are pitching the media in person and over the phone, providing key packets of information, helping them out and forming an emotional stake. If your personality was too low-key or humdrum, how were you going to do your job successfully?

Clients envision their publicists to be faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. There's no way around it. You don't want to present them a screaming lunatic, but not Droopalong the dog either, so it's got to be somewhere in between those measures.

The number one thing clients want to see, I believe, is enthusiasm because it stirs passion, aggressiveness and the determination to succeed. That became one of my main job candidate criteria -- if you want to work here with my clients, show enthusiasm. Not just by words but with emotion and attitude, because they go a long way.

1 comment:

Lance said...

Nice article Drew, good insights.