Remember Johnny Cash’s song “I’ve Been Everywhere?” Well, that’s me. Started in the Philadelphia area, went to college in New England, moved to California for six years, then Upstate New York for three and now the Washington, D.C. Metro. I’ve also driven cross-country twice (in a sub-compact car no less!). Granted, I’ve never lived in wide swaths of the country, but I still feel I have a decent sense of just how different regional rhythms are generally. And this perspective has proven instructive as I work with clients geographically distant from me.
Made more acute by widespread work-from-home and reduced travel, two damaging dynamics plague consultant and in-house communicator relationships:
The PR pro fails to develop and build trust with clients/professionals – not just in terms of results, but with compassion, empathy and genuine care.
The communicator has no idea what the community or communities a client/professional lives and works in are like, including their local media landscapes.
You Don’t Know Me or Us
Communications are rooted in trust. The most competent PR agency with the deepest set of media contacts may notch some notable placements but will struggle and ultimately fail if their people don’t understand – on the professional and personal levels – their clients. Our most productive, multi-year partnerships with clients include a wide-range of activities – and most are rather routine. By being interwoven into firm culture, all end products benefit. As communicators, we learn the “voice” of key spokespeople and understand the comfort and discomfort levels – along with learning how best to reach and dialogue with busy professionals. Some want emails, some calls and some prefer text messages. There are necessary and unavoidable limitations to one-time, fly-in engagements.
Relationships Matter in Communications
Beyond understanding individual comfort levels, a high level of engagement with clients includes developing professional and personal relationships. We often learn about client’s families, their hobbies and interests and sometimes personal challenges they are facing. We, in turn, reveal more about ourselves – as per any friendship. This all contributes to a deep reservoir of trust – and insight.
It is a costly and often repeated mistake for outside consultants or in-house communicators to operate as purely hired guns and mercenaries. The most effective public relations and marketing is conducted across campaigns together in the trenches, not with disconnected one-off volleys.
Knowing the Local Landscape
The pressure and the challenge to produce measurable media results on a local level is intense. Squeezed by newspaper staff and coverage cuts, media professionals are working to hit a moving and shrinking target. This means that “news” actually needs to be news. More and more, clients and firm communicators must be discerning about promoting internal developments and “other outlet’s” awards because they are expending capital with harried and selective reporters.
Success, we have found, comes from two key ingredients:
Knowing when to hold em’ – Earning the leadership’s confidence to be able to say “no” or “hold off” on pushing out internal developments or non-news stories.
Knowing your reporter audience – Actually knowing (sometimes, again, on a personal level) local reporters is crucial, especially as we work across disparate geographic locations. You need to know what they need and you have to read, listen to or watch what they’re producing to find success.
A Quick Litmus Test
If a PR/communications professional doesn’t know these regional elements, they probably don’t know you and your firm well:
- The local weather, especially extreme weather.
- The biggest local news stories, regardless of applicability to the firm.
- The key media outlets by heart – newspaper, business journal, TV news stations and FM all-news/NPR radio station(s).
All three of the above are easily knowable and followable in a super-connected world. Daily familiarity with these sources long term yields meaningful media placements.
Business relationships should transcend the purely transactional. I genuinely care about the people I work with. We track and note birthdays (thanks nominations!). And for big sports fans, we congratulate on triumphs and offer empathy for disappointments – all as friends do.
From a media monitoring and engagement perspective, I nearly drive myself batty with notifications popping up on my phone from newspapers and local TV news from far off places. But this familiarity is an expectation, a big strategic advantage and is virtually costless.
Trust, More Than Ever
With dispersed workforces, even living in the shadows of their office buildings, communicators need to build trust with every interaction, no matter how small. Can you really trust someone you don’t know? And can a PR professional really expect to excel in a location if they pair physical distance with little-to-no effort to understand their client’s community or communities?