One of the often-overlooked aspects of PR is the importance of letting clients know the whole truth—good, bad, and unvarnished. Yes, we need to be encouraging and positive, but it’s also essential to be rigorously honest. And that isn’t always easy.
Clients come to you for your vision and expertise and sometimes they expect you to just accentuate the positive and forget about the negative. But here’s the thing: the press won’t. And in today’s fast-moving media landscape, clients need to be prepped for reporters who ask the tough questions and expect real answers. Clients can’t gloss over things; they have to be prepared to tell the truth.
On the agency side, we must ensure that clients are aware of this reality. Clients—and the agencies that serve them—need to be aware of the big picture including the competition, the possible shortcomings of their business, and the tough questions they will get asked.
To do this, agencies must rely on the full scope of knowledge from their colleagues to understand exactly where the client fits into the landscape.
They also need to prepare by:
• Reading everything related to your client’s business. It will be immediately apparent where the pitfalls lie. You can learn a lot from the right notes and missteps of others. Agencies should set up regular meetings/phone calls to discuss the landscape and what can be learned from how competitors are handling their issues.
• Making sure your client is sharing any and all information with you. And not just what they’re looking to promote, but the good, the bad, and the less than attractive. It’s critical for agencies to have the total picture, not just what the client thinks is important. Agencies must keep on top of our clients to share their doubts and lapses so that we can roll up our sleeves and use our best knowledge and practices.
• Working with your internal communication resources. Others on your in-house team can have some great and worthy insight. Even if they are not assigned to your client, it’s good to tap others to get a broader vision.
• Following Twitter feeds and other social media outlets for all reporters covering the beat. That way, you and the client are both up to speed on what’s trending, and they understand where they fit into the big picture. It’s all part of the ongoing education process, a homework assignment that needs to be integrated into the client’s way of doing things as they move forward.
• Putting on our reporter hats. Agencies can come up with proactive questions so clients are completely up-to-speed and prepped for any and all questions.
PR today is so much more than the spin cycle—it’s got to be a fact based, warts-and-all assessment of the business as seen from both the micro and macro point of view.
Clients may not be happy to hear that “those pants make them look fat,” but they’ll appreciate your honesty and savvy when they’re totally prepared for the real world questions they get asked in interviews.
Ed James is president/co-founder of Cornerstone PR. You can follow him on Twitter @edwjames.