Drop the Salesman Mentality

I love PR. I really do. Yet, as much as I enjoy working in PR, there are definitely some parts of the business that concern me, and frankly have me worried about the state of the business in the future. One of those areas is how some in PR seemingly view their jobs with a saleperson’s mentality.

That whole, “Hey journalist, buy into this idea NOW! You gotta jump on this now, because I’m going to go after the next living soul I can find who will listen to my spin!” Or my personal favorite: “You owe me big for this hit.”

Do these sound like phrases that you would say outside of the workplace, to a friend, or acquaintance, or even someone you see passing by? Probably not. So why the hell do we break out thee trite phrases, not only with reporters and bloggers, but potentially worse, with our own colleagues, the ones whose backs we should have.

Can we please stop the salesman mentality in this business, and actually look at it like real humans treat other jobs: with some compassion and empathy for our colleagues and those we deal with on a daily basis? A colleague helps you land a big interview for a client, and ever since then has been *gently* reminding you that you owe her big for that. You were extremely appreciative for the assistance, as you told her before, during and after she helped you secure the connection. But should that person hold it over your head for the next two weeks that you owe them, as though we are all working off of some commission system like an electronics salesperson, and you just took the next big tip from her? I don’t think so. We’re in this business to connect our clients and organizations with key influencers and audiences; since when did we get into PR to sale a 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme for that glorious 10% commission?

So here is what I propose: Let’s drop the word “hit” from our entire PR vocabulary. That, I believe, would go a very long way in debunking the general public’s view that we’re all hucksters out to sell us the next great concept. It’s an awful jargon term that often offends reporters, and worse, makes us seem like shallow used car salesmen. So if we want to turn around the public sentiment for our business and actually look, act, and feel like an industry that is here to help others, rather than just ourselves, let’s try calling it something else . . . maybe “made a connection.” That’s really corny, I know, but damnit, it’s actually true and doesn’t make us sound like shallow schleps just looking to propel our own personal agendas.

So why do you think the salesman mentality sometimes permeates into PR? Should we be in this for our agencies and organizations, or are we in this world and business for our own personal gains? And what’s your suggestion for a better term than “hit” for making that next big connection for a client?

Editor’s Note: Realizing that our audience has grown quite a bit in the nearly three years since we’ve started publishing we’re choosing to republish posts that many of you may have missed that continue to provide thought provoking reading.  This post originally ran in PRBC on September 19th, 2009.


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  • Thank you for your succinct and on-target commentary. The corollary to your blog is that PR practitioners have created their own dilemma by being “hit-driven” because clients and prospects have the impression that all we do is hit (pun intended) the send button and voila! Nothing could be farther from the truth. Our ability to “make the connection” is based on hard work, the development of relevant PR communication, our cultivation of expertise in a variety of topics, our ongoing investment in media relations, and our compassionate persistence. Perhaps it is my early roots in journalism, but we approach our PR efforts as providing a service to the media, engaging them to understand their beat, and working with our clients to position them as expert resources. 

  • Ken Jacobs

    I agree with the overall focus of your post.To quote @GiniDietrich , “Spin Sucks.” But we can change the argument by thinking about what a truly good salespeople do: They take the time to listen.They truly understand their “buyer’s” pain. They understand the buyer’s worldview, needs and wants. In this case they then offer something that helps the buyer do their job better: A TRULY newsworthy story suggestion, using the media’s, and not the client’s, definition of newsworthy. They provide content that will be valuable to the buyer’s readers, viewers or followers, and in a format that maps back to the buyer’s style. And rather than push, they simply let the quality of what they’ve provided speak for itself.      

  • Marisa Vallbona

    Why not just call it what it is? We got an interview with The Wall Street Journal, or we got a TV news segment on the morning show, or we arranged a meeting with the editorial board. It’s like I tell my sons when I’ve heard them talk in code — use adequate words or you sound less educated.  It’s time as practitioners that we behave the way we want others to treat us and our profession.

  • Great points, Keith. And still a very relevant post today!

    Can we also drop the word “pitch” from our vocabulary? The book “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations” makes the suggestion to drop those sales-ish words from our vocab, and ever since I read it a few years ago, I’ve made an effort to not use those words. I’ve actually felt gross when “pitch” has slipped out here and there and immediately reminded myself why that word needs to go away.

    A former coworker of mine started as a journalist, and she said everyone in her newsroom hated it that PR people used the word “pitch.” Sure, it’s wordy to say “sharing news” or “sharing a story idea,” but real people can relate to that. Pitch = I’m trying to “sell” you. And that’s not what the PR profession is all about.