Wednesday, October 31, 2007

It's not you, it's them. (But it's probrably you)

A coworker shared this (thanks, Schanel) and it reminded me of a conversation several of us had yesterday...there is a gap between PR people and the people they (we) serve. True, this isn't an earth-shaking discovery; in fact it's been talked about for as long as I can remember.

What was different about this conversation is that we were able to very easily point to many situations, all within the last week, that presented opportunities to close this gap. In each case, the PR person did a disservice; no, not to our esteemed profession, but to their respective companies.

Soapbox moment: at the very basic level, our responsibility is to educate. Might be about a product. Or a service. A technology. A company. A cause, a crisis, a brand (though I disagree with this one -- but that's a topic for another day), a decision, a get the idea. Good PR people aren't out to put perfume on a pig. Good PR people are out educating people on things that can make their lives better, and finding ways to resonate with the end customer. And that's where things break down. For the PR department, who is the customer? The internal client who pays for a portion of the budget; or the guy buying your gizmo, service or info?

(I'm broad-brushing here. I apologize for that.)

It's a catch-22: people outside the PR department don't understand PR and therefore make unreasonable requests, typically bringing in the communications expert at the 11th hour; the department itself caters to these requests to satisfy their "customer." In the end, the real customer suffers, frustrations build, effectiveness declines, opportunities are blown...and the gap widens.

The solution is simple (in theory), albeit tiresome: take that knack for education and apply it internally. If you're a communicator, do people you work with really understand what you do? As PR folks, we need to take our own advice. Tell our story through examples, over and over and over. Float brief case studies, PR Week, war stories and explanations about why a particular clip or blog is beneficial, under the noses of those who impact communications within our companies. And live the Rule of 7 to make your point heard through all the other brainwave-requiring issues.