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Public Relations Is…

Public Relations Is…

In the short time I’ve been writing here at the BH, I’ve occasionally used my bi-weekly column to gripe about PR and the new age of the web we’re calling Web 2.0. In our haste to try to reinvent the press release, convince our clients to podcast their AGM or industry conference, and culling lists of “influential” bloggers in order to hawk the latest goods and services for our clients, we might be forgetting what public relations is truly all about: the client.

If it seems obvious, it bears repeating: our jobs as PR professionals is to satisfy the client. By this I certainly don’t mean that when the client wants a news release we say “What kind of distribution would you like on that?”, as often the wrong tools are employed in certain situations because PR professionals are unwilling to speak up against such practices. If one of our responsibilities is to make sure the client is getting value for our work, then it’s certainly worth talking to them about using the right tools for the job. But, I digress…

The most important part of PR is pleasing the client. I know it sounds extremely self-serving, but the best relationships in this business are built on great work. At my firm, our people strive to add value in every place possible, from writing to billing. [Aside: something I never thought about in my entire PR career up until recently became apparent not so long ago. Someone who works in our firm sends out the most amazing invoices to clients. All he/she does is take every spec of time logged in our time-tracking system, dumps it into the invoice, and sends it off to the client. There’s no messing around, no preparation – just straight information, direct from our time sheets. What might the client think of this? I wouldn’t know personally, but if I’m on the other end of that invoice, I know exactly what I’m being billed for. If there’s something wrong, it’s right there in front of me on the invoice. It’s no one-line invoice for “Services Rendered: $10,000”, not even close. This is but one example of a way in which the client is pleased as punch about our PR.]

I’ve found that when it comes to serving clients, doing exactly what your expected to do is rarely enough. Sometimes that’s a good thing because it can force you to consider and reconsider what you’re doing in the first place. If you find yourself repeating the same program for clients year after year, with the same budget, maybe you need to step back and evaluate the effectiveness of that campaign and reconsider. Perhaps there’s a better way after a few years of the same-old, same-old. If you’ve been doing the same outreach campaign to media the past, say, 3 years, maybe you’ll want to go over your media list and think about adding a few new people to it, regardless of what your client’s field is. Only 3 years ago, blogger outreach was nearly unheard of. Today, it’s an important part of spreading the word to targeted publics. The lesson here is that even though the client may not be asking you to do something new for them, as a PR professional it’s our responsibility to approach the client and not the other way around.

So think about your clients. Are they happy with the results you’re bringing them? Don’t be afraid to ask them. Do you really think they’ll rebuff you if you request to sit down and take a look at the big picture with them? Do you think they’ll say, “We’re happy with the way everything is going, we’re not the least bit interested in anything new or innovative,” or do you think they’ll be glad that you’re keeping their interests in mind? I thought so.

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Chris Clarke works at Thornley Fallis, a PR firm in Toronto, Canada. He also blogs at Student PR about public relations and social media.

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