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Really Dumb PR Question

confused.jpgSo I’ve recently noticed a trend at parties or events since I’ve held a position in the PR field. When people ask me what I do I try to judge how much I think I know about them and what they might now about PR before I answer (look at that, the “know your audience” concept at work). This has become increasingly more difficult recently as I have found myself in more and more situations where I am meeting people for the first time.

I usually just tell them I’m an account executive for an advertising/PR firm in Canton. At this point, one of two things happen. They either say, “oh,” followed by an awkward silence usually broken by me excusing myself to get another a) drink b) brownie c) conversation partner.

Then there are the folks who kind of understand what I might do. These people usually have latched on to the “advertising” word I mentioned in the answer to the question. Or, sometimes, they truly understand PR and want to know about my job. Former students I taught at Akron, fellow former grad students, or others who know of PR.

Invariably, the first thing these people ask me is “have any interesting clients?” This seems like such a monumentally inane question to me. Do you know how many businesses or products there are in the world? Especially business-to-business clients. If I could line up 50 PR or advertising folk and ask them that question, I’ll bet I wouldn’t recognize 75% of their clients. What do these people think I’m working on, VNRs for NASA? Pepsi’s new Super Bowl commercial? The crisis communication plan for Wal-Mart? And even better, what would it matter if I were working on a high-profile client. Because the next question they would ask SHOULD have been their first question, “what do you do for them?”

And that’s just it. I would much rather bore you to tears about my job if I were doing something really great for anyone, regardless of what client it was. My first question when I network with other ad/PR folk is always, “working on any cool projects?” because it’s the projects that matter, man, not the client when you’re shooting the breeze.

If you were building a really cool blog/MySpace concept for Bob’s House of Foam that would be what I wanted to hear about. I don’t want to hear that Crusty Widgets Inc. is your client, but that you were working on putting together a massive crisis management/communication plan together for them. It’s what you do with PR that matters, not just who you do it for. It tells me that you love your job, that you think your projects are cool, that you really enjoy your work. Not that you only enjoy your work ’cause you write press releases for some client who actually doesn’t even know you, but whose name speaks volume. “Yes, we do work for Coke and Crest.” “Oh, what do you do for them?” “Uh, we also do work for Victoria’s Secret,” he might say desperately. “Oh,” say I, obviously taking the bate. Do you know any of the models?”

Of course he doesn’t know the models or he would have started by shouting directly into my face, “I went to a party at Tyra’s house and saw a bunch of super models!!!!” whether he knew me or not.

Maybe I’m unique, but that’s just how I feel about it. Maybe if the Columbus Blue Jackets were my client I’d be more excited about people asking me about it. I’m more interested in the process than the product, usually. How about you?

Disclaimer: Neither Bob’s House of Foam, Crusty Widgets Inc., or any of those other companies are clients of mine.

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4 Responses

  1. Luke-
    Great posting. I find myself in a very simlilar position, though I’m more in the field of marketing than PR like you are. My agency works primarily with industrial clients, which does not interest many folks. Heck, I can’t really even explain what some of them do on a day to day basis. However, there certainly are a variety of interesting projects that come through our office, just like yours I’m sure. So you’re right… ask about the projects, not the clients, and everybody’s happy!

  2. Mike,
    Thanks for stopping by. You’re right, it’s not just a dumb PR question, it’s a dumb service question for our industries in general: marketing, PR, and communications. I couldn’t agree with you more about not knowing gritty details about your clients’ business, there’s just too much the asker won’t care about anyway. Is it like name dropping, is that what it is? Projects are things people can understand and relate to. Plus, it helps quantify and qualify what it is that we do all day.

  3. Luke, this quandry for PR people happens all the time. PRSA even has an article on their site where a woman relates how difficult it was to explain to her family in a way they could then relate to her job. It is frustrating.

    I often try to talk about communication, rather than the job … how we try to reach people and disseminate information, persuade or whatever the goal is in the project. But, I think you’re right … the projects are usuallyl the coolest way to talk about it.

    Now, if someone is telling me about what they do and they seem truly excited about it, I’m sold and will gladly listen. I bet you’ll sell them that way.

  4. Robert,
    Once again you bring wisdom to what would otherwise be a wild rant. Thanks. I have often found PR frustrating to explain so I would love to check out that article. Your point on comm vs job is well taken, too.
    My favorite part of your comment is the last part. As soon as I read it I realized how perfect that is. We have always been fools for people who spin a good tale – regardless of the topic. And when you throw a little bit of passion into it, it’s tough to ignore. It’s when you push the limit and start talking about your cat a little too much while forgetting your audience is when there are problems.

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