Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How Not To Look For A PR Firm #1: The Executive Assistant

"My name is _________ and I am the Executive Assistant to the COO for _________. We are interested in your PR services, including but not limited to, preparation/distribution of information to news media and industry analysts, innovative and strategic communications counsel, and a myriad of external publicity activities."

This is the kind of e-mail invitation any public relations consultant would love. I was certainly going to follow-up. I set up my appointment and went in to meet with what I assumed was going to be the COO.

The executive assistant who sent me the e-mail greeted me and took me to a different floor. We sat in a room, and began chatting. It only took a couple of minutes to realize the COO had left his executive assistant in charge of the first round of PR interviews. Maybe the whole process!

With no other choice, I proceeded to ask her a number of questions about the company, their needs, who does what, obstacles, what they were not getting from their present PR firm. While some questions were answered fairly quickly, others she didn't sound too sure and a handful, she didn't seem to know the answers at all.

When I returned to my office, I pretty much wrote them off and was really kicking myself for being blindsided like this. While I've been contacted by numerous assistants in the past who found me through articles, recommendations and LinkedIn, they are often the appointment makers and gatekeepers for the executives in charge, the decision makers.

If these guys were leaving the weeding out to their rather unprepared executive assistant, what was life going to be like if they came on as clients? Who would be my liaison and pipeline of information, my partner in this engagement? What message did that give me about what they thought of the importance of public relations?

Public relations has to be a commitment from the top suite. Any interviews with potential communications partners requires not just their attendance, but an investment in providing information and asking smart questions to make the selection process a constructive and worthwhile endeavor.

Would you ask your school-age kid sister to interview potential marriage suitors for you but you never meet them?

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