As members of PRConsultants Group, a national network of independent public relations firms, we are given opportunities to gain new insights from our colleagues, as well as continuing learning opportunities. We recently attended our network’s annual conference (handled virtually this year), and one of the key speakers, Shannyn Lee of Win Without Pitching, shared ideas that truly resonated with where we’ve been moving in our business. In fact, a recent new business exchange we had a week prior to hearing her presentation is a perfect example of her advice at work.
Many small businesses like ours have a sincere desire to become true partners with our clients. We want our work to be meaningful and impactful. Yet, as Shannyn notes, too often we instead find ourselves in the frustrating role of “order takers.” How did we end up there instead of a position of providing effective counsel and strategy to a client?
It starts at the very beginning of the relationship. When teamworks first started more than 24 years ago, we felt like we had escaped the agency mentality of “grab any business you can get your hands on.” We’d like to say we figured out how to be more selective about our clients overnight – but old habits can be challenging to break. But, over the years, we’ve stepped back and evaluated the work we do from the standpoints of “when are we most effective for our clients?” and “when are we most satisfied with the work we’re doing?” We learned how to spot a bad fit faster and practiced saying “no” when we saw a disappointing relationship coming our way.
It’s a lot like speed dating — you make some quick conclusions about whether or not there is even a potential for a good fit. But then you need a strategy for figuring out where to head with the remaining pool of candidates. For our business, that has taken the form of a mutual interview. We understand that potential clients are evaluating us to see if teamworks is the right fit for them, has the right expertise, and can deliver solid results. The shift for us has been to let potential clients know upfront that we’re also interviewing them. It isn’t a given that even if you want to hire us, we will want to be hired by you. We’ve met some very nice businesses we could envision working with, only to find out that what they need or want isn’t what we have to offer. Or, in getting to know them, we realize they just don’t have a story that’s going to resonate in the communication channels they hope to use.
Perfect example: We recently were approached by a cardiologist who is interested in serving as a resource to media on heart-related issues. There was no question he has the medical qualifications, but it took a face-to-face Zoom interview with him for us to determine if he had the personality, demeanor and availability to be effective in that arena. We also wanted to see how open he would be to our suggestions and counsel. We told him upfront that we needed to evaluate whether it would be productive to work together.
As it turns out, his ability to speak about heart issues in laymen terms and his very approachable style of communicating made a great impression on us. We agreed to work together – with tangible results in just the first week.
Successful PR practitioners have a hot commodity – a unique skill set to help clients get noticed and communicate with their audiences better. We need to be as selective as our clients in determining where that expertise can be best applied.