Leave it to the Professionals

View of a young businessman working at a laptop at his deskRecently, fellow PRBCer Keith Trivitt raised an interesting question about PR folks’ background. Essentially, he said, you don’t need to be trained in communications or PR to be successful in our field:

It takes all types to be a successful communicator. Some are bold and brash. Others are quiet and reflective. And still some are a mix of the two. Each can be successful in their own way. And as long as you have a bit of wisdom, a lot of patience and a major drive, a lot of different people from various backgrounds can be successful communicators. 

While this may or may not be true for workers in the public relations field, it becomes a slippery slope when we look at this question through a business development lens.

Imagine going into a new business pitch with people who are not communicators by trade but come from the specific field you’re pitching (e.g. you’re pitching a university and your team consists of you, the expert communicator, and three members of your team who were former teachers and not public relations people).

Although your team may know the prospective client’s discipline very well, they may not have the experience or expertise to implement and execute the strategies and tactics needed to boost the client’s perception in their marketplace. In short, what we do as communications professionals is provide a service that takes talent, skill and as everything else in life, practice.

One of the biggest problems PR agencies face when securing new business is selling the idea that our services are fresh, innovative, and not something just anyone can do.  Unfortunately, many companies believe they can communicate their message better than an outside source. This is only partially true; my firm will never know the ins and outs of a client’s business as well as the client. However, we are experts in delivering that message to the audiences our client needs to reach.

Getting a company to part with their money is tough. Getting a company to part with their money for a service they believe they a) don’t need or b) think they can do themselves is even tougher.

If you go into a new business scenario where you feel your hands are already tied, don’t fret. Explain how your services help the prospective client’s bottom line, that a strong communications platform works in conjunction with – not independent of – the company’s business objectives. Explain how you will help build the company’s perception which will create more business opportunities for them. And if you really want to hit them over the head with why they need an outside source to help with their communications, use other professional services as analogies: when you break a leg, you don’t go to your medicine cabinet for a band-aid, you go to a doctor; when you get sued or need legal help, you don’t do it yourself, you speak with a lawyer.

We are a service industry. We are experts in our field and we know how to get a company’s message delivered to its target audience. As the saying goes, “Leave it to the professionals.”

Do you have any stories where a client or potential client told you they know how to communicate and don’t need your agency’s help? We’d love to hear them.

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  • keithtrivitt

    Josh – Thanks for following up on my post. Good to see it made a few people that I definitely respect think a bit about things.

    You make some really fantastic points throughout this post, but one that I really want to highlight is your point that just because you know an industry extremely well, that doesn't mean you know how to execute communications strategies and tactics that will help drive business goals for a company within that business. You are certainly correct there, my friend.

    And that's actually where I think we – as an industry – can help to improve the communications/PR education program in most American colleges. We need to have a greater focus on obtaining stronger business acumen, while also learning all of the skills and tactics necessary to be an effective communications pro. But no doubt that business acumen, even if you plan to work in a corporate setting for your entire career, will play a major role in your success, just because of the fact that what we do is a business. And we work with other businesses. And there is simply no way to get around needing some type of business knowledge to effective understand the business needs of clients, as well as how to develop effective communications and engagement strategies for them.

    So maybe what this industry really needs is a combination of strong communications skills (say, 65% of our expertise), plus excellent business acumen (20% of our expertise), plus a tremendous passion and knowledge for the industries that you are serving (15% of our expertise). And that just gets us right back to the crux of the whole PR business, in that we really are a hodge-podge of knowledge and expertise in many different areas … which, frankly, makes it so damn fun to work in!

  • JoshSternberg

    Thanks for the comment, Keith. I think it's up to us, the professionals – not just the academic institutions – to provide the entrepreneurial education/ business acumen for younger PR pros.

    The first agency I worked with – as many agencies do – offered up a carrot of a percentage of a retainer or project fee if you brought in new business. Right away, I started networking and eventually did bring in business – which put me on the path that I'm on now. I learned a lot from that experience.

    But still, at the end of the day, a client wants to know that you'll be able to implement all that you sold them on.

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