Don’t Let Your Client Get in the Way of the Story

Your curser is hovering above the ‘Send’ button. You’ve checked your spelling, grammar—everything seems perfect. But take one more second before sending that next pitch and ask yourself: “what am I pitching; my client or a story?”

It may seem like a silly question but there is a difference between the two. A story is something that conveys information, ideas, emotion, and context in an original and engaging manner.

Your client, on the other hand—whether it’s a small startup, international corporation or nonprofit—is merely a provider of a product, service or idea. By itself, a company does not provide context or convey emotion.

As PR pros, we’re intimately involved in every aspect of our clients’ business. We’re in the tangle of every big announcement, but we’re also sitting shotgun during the day-to-day minutia. Having a 360 degree view of our clients and their respective industries is critical to being an effective practitioner.

But being that close to the action can have some adverse effects. One of them is tunnel vision. Sometimes, you can be so invested in ensuring your client’s success that you forget to consider the big picture: “what does this announcement mean to those who aren’t invested (financially or emotionally) in our company?” “How does this new product change or improve upon something that has already been done?”

To make others care about your client, you need to engage them with a pitch that conveys information, ideas, emotion and context.

So before you hit the “Send” button, just remember: You’re not pitching your client. You’re pitching a story. Your client just happens to be the main character.

Public Relations: Chock-Full of Arbitrary Job Titles

A few days ago I went to the doctor for a routine check-up. As I sat uneasily on that thin, crinkly paper that’s tasked with protecting me from wayward germs, the physician assistant asked me a string of questions about who I was.

They were just a routine set of questions about my medical history, my family’s medical history, etc.; but then she asked me about my career.

“What do you do for a living?” she asked with her head bent down to her clipboard – absent of any interest.

“I work in public relations,” I replied with rivaling indifference.

But then came the unexpected. Her eyes lifted and her face contorted as a quizzical look seized control of every muscle in her head.

“So what does that make you. . . a Public Relator?”

Her confused words hung awkwardly in the air. Her response seemed ridiculous – and yet I couldn’t think of a better answer. The paper beneath me crackled as if to break the uncomfortable silence and relieve some of the tension.

“I guess, I’m a communicator,” I said; the words falling gracelessly out of my mouth.

Satisfied with my answer, she scribbled on the clipboard as her facial features returned to their default settings.

So that’s how I came to be known as “The Communicator” (Schwarzenegger voice optional), at my new doctor’s office.

But that’s not really the point of my story. The real issue is that as PR pros, we really don’t have one name or title to call our own.

During my drive home, I couldn’t help but think of some of the other responses that I could have given to my new physician assistant friend; and a few reasons why I decided that calling myself a communicator was the best option.

I could have said…

I’m a “Strategic Communications Specialist”

Translation: I’m a pompous dork with an inflated sense of self worth.

I’m a “PR Counselor”

This title should be reserved for those who help treat PR pros suffering from severe psychiatric disorders caused by years of client pressure to pitch meaningless stories under embargo to journalists who always seem to have just enough time to tell you why you ruined their day – but who are always too busy when you actually do have a great story.

I’m a “PR Practitioner”

I need 20 DMAs with the highest readership of the WSJ, stat!

I’m a “Public Relations Officer”

This would be fitting if I had a badge and got to barge into clients’ homes and say things like, “ma’am, we received a call from one of your neighbors saying that you wanted to be on Oprah; mind if we come in and have a look around?”

I’m a “PR Specialist”

This title is just plain misleading. In order to be a “specialist” you need to devote yourself to one subject or to a particular branch of a subject or pursuit. As PR pros, we’re required to be adept in a wide range of skills and knowledgeable across a diverse set of industries. The concept of “specialty” is antithetical to the varied and volatile nature of what we do.

So in the end, I think I’ll stick with “Communicator.” After all, effective communication is at the foundation of everything that we do.

Classic Movies with PR Disasters

Ask any PR pro and they’ll tell you that their career interferes with their personal life. And I’m not talking about the usual things like stress and long hours that people associate with their jobs. No. I’m talking about movies. Ever since I started working in PR, I can’t enjoy movies the way I used to. I scrutinize every character, plot device and event like the movie’s a PR case study of what not to do. Below are two (awesome) movies with plot devices that would’ve caused some massive PR fallout if they took place in reality.

The Breakfast Club – Larry Lester’s Buns

In the movie The Breakfast Club, why was the jock, Andrew Clark (Emilio Estevez), serving a stint in Saturday school? Sounds like the start to a great joke, but the punchline should haunt any moviegoer’s dreams. During a cathartic tell-all, Clark reveals that he “taped Larry Lester’s buns together.” But the tale of Clark’s favorite extracurricular activity doesn’t end there – he adds, “when they pulled the tape off, most of his hair came off; and some skin, too.”

Thankfully, I’m not 100% clear on what acts constitute sexual assault, but I think it’s safe to assume that Clark crossed some physical boundaries that may have necessitated more stern action from the school’s administration.  The alliterative Larry Lester suffers a physical (not to mention emotional) trauma from which he may never recover and Clark spends a couple extra hours in the school library flirting with Molly Ringwald. In the real world, the PTA is going to catch wind of Larry Lester’s buns and the ensuing PR backlash is going to whip the school district so badly that it’ll be the one that can’t sit for weeks.

The Empire Strikes Back – Vader Kicks it in Cloud City

If you’re adept at depriving yourself of things that rule, you probably know the second installment of the Star Wars trilogy as “that boring one” or “the one with Yoda.” So I’d like to enlighten those of you by outlining this scenario.

Lando Calrissian, space pimp and head honcho in Cloud City, betrays Han Solo and Company by handing them over to Darth Vader. As a result, Solo is turned into a carbonite coffee table, C-3PO get’s dismantled, Luke gets a hand lopped off, etc.

But the real PR problem here is that Lando let Vader crash at his pad in the first place. Cloud City residents would be none too pleased to find out that their leader harbored an intergalactic terrorist who regularly chokes people to death with his mind and explodes entire planets just because he can. This would be like President Obama sneaking Osama Bin Laden into the White House and then letting him take off with the Secretary of State. Sure something gets lost in the translation of Harrison Ford to Hillary Clinton, but you get the idea – Calrissian is going to have a rough re-election year.

When you work in PR, it can be difficult to flip the switch when you clock out for the day. After a while, you just start thinking in PR.  It’s like looking at the green code that trickles down TV screens in The Matrix – stare at it long enough, and eventually you don’t even see the code.