Are We Doing it to Ourselves?

Portrait of a Well Dressed Woman Posing with a Lamp on Her HeadOur business (or as I usually call it, “the biz”) is now, and may always have been, at a cusp. Our job functions are spreading farther and wider (and depth frequently becoming thinner and thinner, like so much marshmallow fluff on a fluffernutter) that what we’re actually here to do, what we’ve been trained to do and gotten experience in, suffers greatly in quality and uniqueness.

Is it any wonder our families, and even clients sometimes, have no real idea of what we do when our education and training contradict our duties? That we’re here trying to provide strategic guidance on communications and image issues yet simultaneously diminishing the value of our own masthead through our actions?

Based on the war stories I hear (yes, for some reason your employees complain to me), tweets I see, and cv line items from prior jobs it seems increasingly we’re taking on the role of customer service agent (or at least appearing to), clerical support staff for clients (in non-media contexts), and the “occasional” other job that has nothing to do with our core skills of communications.

It doesn’t help that we’re finally getting out of a bit of a slump in the money department and for years the best way to keep clients has been to make sure they aren’t unhappy. Consider how often, if ever, you’ve said to a client “But that’s not what we do here” compared to the number of times you’ve had to tell an employee they’re being sent to the client’s office to help them organize their Rolodex on the premise that if they can find a reporter’s contact information they’ll be better situated for PR, knowing full well it’s a crock of…soup?

So then after all – is it our fault? Maybe, possibly? The lack of talent, the disrespect of the clients, the entire industry on our backs that is basically a chimera of itself?

Do we bemoan our desire for good writing and communications skills and then not let the recruits get the chance to flex that muscle until they’ve lost all enthusiasm for what brought them to our business to begin with?

When did we start bragging about our employee’s professionalism and abilities and then allow the client to dictate who on the account does what, or to turn our valued staff into free clerical labor, booth babes, or other non-communications staff? After all, a little T&A never hurt anyone…

Since when is it professional to complain about a lack of hours in the day and then allow the staff to become couriers, wasting away while the client figures out what they want next or spend (the financial equivalent) of more man hours than a product is worth, ferrying it back and forth.

Can we take ourselves seriously while selling our professional staff’s education, experience, and smarts to new clients, but still always bring eye-candy to the pitch meeting (And yes, that includes men in our business)?

Lawyers don’t prepare our taxes or accountants fix our plumbing; since when did we become clerical staff, product demo staff and couriers? Let’s not lose sight of what we’re here to do.

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  • Anonymous

    Wow — I can really relate to this post (being a former college-educated booth-babe myself!) You are right, it IS easy to find yourself in a position where your team is operating more like a VA or courier rather than the consultants that they should be. What has worked for me personally, is to recognize the warning signs and begin squelching the behavior right away when it starts. It is much easier to handle upfront rather than after a year of misuse. Easier said than done though. The problem is that the situation creeps up on you. In the beginning it is just “one” thing — of course you want to do whatever it takes to make a new client happy. Still, clients won’t respect what you bring to the table if you are also the one serving them coffee. — Tara

    • Sorry to hear about your experiences, and definitely agree the slippery slope to doing clerical work is very hard to avoid, and perhaps even more difficult to put a definitive line on what’s ‘too much.’ It’s also touchy to pull back on the momentum and stop doing what, after months of habit, has become a regular task….

      • Anonymous

        I know! That’s the problem — you wake up, look around and say “How did I get here?” And why am I stuffing envelopes? lol — Tara

  • This is exactly the kind of post that got me started reading this blog.

    • Hey Evan –

      Thanks so much 🙂 Glad you enjoyed it. I actually remember when you started reading PRBC regularly and would link in, so great that you’re back in the saddle.

  • Anon

    What a great post. PRs should be versatile, but I don’t think we’ve ever said no to a client request, and I’ve spent a significant chunk of the last few years acting as overpaid sampling staff. It’s dull and it’s demeaning.

    • Hi Anon –

      Thanks for the visit to the blog. I certainly feel your pain there, and yet each time it always feels like there’s only so far we can push back. Here’s to better days ahead…

  • Abby

    Ooooh I love this discussion. My own bugaboo is the schizophrenia between highly valuing the work that we do for clients — and being proud of the fact that we bring an outside perspective that they so often need — and then bending over backwards for them, doing non-strategic work or essentially working for free because we are “afraid” that we provide no value, that our work is a commodity, that only by doing everything and NEVER saying no do we earn a spot in their hearts. It does my own heart good to read your post.

    • Hi Abby –

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. It’s very true — for the short-sighted client a placement is a placement and when the well runs dry with one firm they’ll move onto another, whereas long term strategy reaps rewards for years to come. The quality of work received from various agencies simply isn’t the same across the board, particularly where it matters – not on the clip count but the long term plan.

      Thanks again

  • It’s difficult for clients to properly value any service business, especially one that’s knowledge and relationship driven. We all want to say “yes” to every request that comes along because, again, we’re service driven. Still, it’s not unlike non-clients who want to pick your brain for information (a conversation for another day); boundaries must be drawn and respected in order for everyone in the equation to properly understand the scope and value you provide each day. Guidance and strategic recommendations are what we provide, whether you define your business/agency/consulting group as p.r., marketing, or social media architecture. I’m happy to send out sample mailings if it can be done while the strategic piece is acknowledged and valued, and it doesn’t take crucial time away from the primary business we’ve been contracted for. Otherwise draw a line in the sand and ask *their* interns to stamp and lick, lick and stamp. Paraphrasing Aretha: just a little respect…goes a long way.

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