Getting ahead in the age of distraction
It was during my previous life, “in-house.” I was standing in an auditorium packed with marketing and PR professionals, when our august VP of Marketing held forth to inspire us before a particularly critical upcoming product launch: “This is really important gang. I want to see some excitement. It’s marketing’s job to be the cheerleaders!”
The collective eye-roll traveled through the crowd like a tsunami. This was one of many tech companies where engineers are gods, top sales reps are superheroes, and marketing and comms professionals are, well, “the staff.” Forget the many instances of tangible, positive contributions to the business. Or the talented individuals who rise to a sort of consigliere-type relationship with executives (I watched one go on to be Eric Schmidt’s go-to comms advisor). Despite the one-off success stories, we were “the help.” Don’t forget to turn the sheets down and put the mint on the pillow when you deliver that briefing book.
But being relegated to cheerleaders? This was a new low.
I recalled this recently when a few of my colleagues and I were talking about “enthusiasm.” You know, as in when a client says, “I’m not seeing enough enthusiasm from the team.”
First, let me be clear: if a client ever raises this specter, you must take it seriously. As my colleague Steve Foley says, “Complacency is the silent killer of client-agency relationships.” You can never take a client for granted. Never lose sight of the fact that you’re “on,” in every encounter, every meeting, every exchange and transaction.
But “enthusiasm” is one of those loose terms. Sometimes it’s code: the client wants cheerleading. (I call the plays, you pump up the crowd.) More specifically: I don’t want counsel. Particularly the tough kind.
PR pros all-too-often suffer from Rodney Dangerfield-ism. No respect. But much of it is self-inflicted. We need to ditch the pom-poms and the cheer pyramids and start modeling lawyers and investigative reporters. The attorney analogy is particularly apt. Great PR–particularly technology PR here in Silicon Valley–builds a case. You put yourself in the shoes of opposing counsel (in the form of the toughest, most hard-nosed reporter, or customer) you can conjure. You find the holes in the argument. You insist on clarity concerning the facts, the evidence and your argument (and how many times does a campaign go to market lacking clarity on these things?). You look your client in the eye and tell them when they sound like they are utterly full of shit.
You do this because it is far better that YOU do it, than the press, and ultimately, the customer.
You do all of this with energy and intellect (which are the two qualities I’d argue we should foster and insist upon). And when the gavel hits the sound block–or the press release crosses the wire–it’s time to be the best advocate you can possibly be on behalf of your client. But during discovery and depositions and requests for information, it’s your job to tell your client what they often don’t want to hear: unless we build a stronger case, jeers, not cheers, will be their reward.