Five Places Where Communications Pros Go Off the Tracks

Let me preface this post by saying I generally LOATHE the bash PR (or marketing or social media) meme. It serves little purpose, mostly because the people doing the bashing don’t offer up the criticism constructively, or with any reasonable alternatives to pursue in its place. Even though I’m not a traditional communications pro, I do work for a communications firm, and work closely with our account executives to provide solutions to client issues. I also read plenty of blogs, engage people on Twitter and meet people at conferences and events so I think I have a pretty good sense for what the industry is generally thinking (though, I’m sure you’ll correct me if I’m misguided here).

What I’ve noticed in my “travels” is that we, as communications pros, often come off the tracks in the same places. This isn’t going to be your typical mud slinging meme because I find that kind of dialogue nauseating. Rather, this is just meant as an outline of my thoughts on where we are as an industry and what we could do better collectively.

  1. You don’t represent you – Lauren Fernandez, who I respect very much as a PR pro, had an excellent post yesterday about conforming to social media or the brand that we work for. It really had me thinking as quite often I think we try to conform to the social media community’s standards and not those of our brands. First and foremost, communications pros represent brands. Whether you work for a corporation, association, non-profit organization or an agency, you represent those brands FIRST. Your primary goal should be conforming to whatever makes your “client” look the best. If that means you are an active participant on Twitter, then so be it, but don’t lose sight of who you are supposed to be representing…It isn’t you!
  2. High Self-Orientation and Low Trust – Every communications pro should read The Trusted Advisor. In addition to being a quality read, you’ll learn quite a bit about how to demonstrate to your client or boss that you are highly credible, have low self-orientation and by consequence have high levels of trust within that organization. In too many cases, we’re focused on what impacts OUR bottom line and not the bottom line of our stakeholders. Focus on them first and you’ll always come out a winner.
  3. Don’t Focus on the Transaction – Getting a hit for your client in their key publications is fantastic, but what does that ultimately mean? Did it contribute it some meaningful way to their business? Did it lead to other hits? Did it portray the key messages you wanted it to portray? Said another way, hits aren’t everything. The relationships you develop with stakeholders will far outweigh that ONE hit you received in the key trade publication.
  4. Offer Business Solutions First – We are often fond of saying that we are business people first and communicators second. I’ll say this much, clients/bosses can recognize right away if you are the other way around. Offer to provide communications solutions that solve business problems and you’ll forever be a winner.
  5. Don’t forget about the ROI! – Just because there are some who argue that ROI for things like social media are elusive, or that we shouldn’t place as much emphasis on ROI in social media at least right now, doesn’t mean your bosses and clients wont. They want to know how doing what you are purposing to do will contribute to the bottom line. How did it increase sales? How did it lower costs? Did it lead to higher retention rates among employees? All things that have meaningful bottom line impact. Just because calculating ROI is hard (it’s not, but if you need a refresher consult Olivier Blanchard), or you don’t think true ROI can be shown for PR/SM (you are wrong by the way), doesn’t mean your boss is going to give you a pass. You need to be able to answer the ROI question before he/she asks you, especially if you want to continue maintaining the budget you’ve been maintaining.

So these are just a few things I think we, as communications pros could do better. What else is there? Is there something in your experience that would refute any of these notions? Can’t wait to hear your views!


6 responses to “Five Places Where Communications Pros Go Off the Tracks

  1. Excellent list, Chuck. My takeaways: Be professional. Be strategic. Be accountable. Too often PR pros don’t get these done because they’re focused on the tactics.

    If anything, social media has pushed us more in the direction of tactics and away from strategy. The tactics are fun and they’re cool. But all too often, they don’t deliver the ROI the clients seek — those “business solutions” you mention.

    We must ask the “why?” questions.

  2. The only negative I can find in number 3 (Don’t Focus on the Transaction) is that clients tend to focus on the trade pubs. It’s how they measure themselves against competition. It’s why PR is usually cut when sales are down – they really don’t understand it. It’s our job to educate them to understand that. 🙂

    ROI will always be important because your client is a business. They understand ROI because it proves worth in many avenues.

    Great post Chuck.

  3. I have to disagree with you a bit on number 1. Yes, you need to represent your brand properly, respectfully, and as a dedicated advocate of it, you still have to be *you*. If all you do is represent your brand, how does that place any human element in this space? Can’t you be yourself, represent your thoughts, and show that your thoughts and beliefs align with those of your company and clients?

    Other than that, I dig where you went with this. Criticism without any sort of solution offered or sting removed is completely useless — this post, on the other hand, is a great means of keeping us on our toes without making us cry. :-p

  4. I agree with Theresa about “being you”. In fact, I think that is one thing that “communications pros” are starting to understand, or at least should be. In the age of pure mass media, you could afford to “be the brand” but now, if you don’t have an authentic voice in there somewhere, the market will see it, not trust it, and probably be a little annoyed (to put it mildly). (I can’t take credit for this: I just read Cluetrain Manifesto.)

  5. Knew this might elicit some commentary, so thanks all.

    @Lauren – yeah, I agree…so maybe we should rework the 3rd point to say we need to be better at educating our clients that communications is more than the hit? Like that a lot actually

    @Teresa & Matthew – I don’t think I’d ever not advocate “you” being “you,” but I would discourage you, or anyone else for allowing the you to overshadow the “who?” This is getting confusing to keep track of 🙂 Seriously, the moment I forget that you work for X, is the time where you have gone over the line. I should enjoy dealing with you as a human being, but also never forget that you are working on behalf of another company/org/association. If that makes any sense?

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