5 commandments learnt in PR-'sphere'

These unexpected yet precious life lessons I have learnt over a career span of  a few decades while working as a PR consultant.  Let me share them with you. Would love to hear your perspective, once you finished reading !

1. Respectful – yes; bullied – no

One hour. I was kept waiting in the exclusive reception area in the chairman’s floor of a mid-sized metal company for my future client to arrive for our final meeting.

“I don’t know where he is; I think he would be late. You can leave if you need to, and we will possibly re-schedule the meeting”, his assistant told me after an hour.

I stayed put. I wanted the account badly. My agency was more than adequately qualified for it. I had recently returned from the middle-east failing to change my luck after prospecting jobs there for over years.  So, I needed this job with the current agency. However, in hindsight, waiting around was a big mistake. After all, anyone who was so inconsiderate during the initial process was likely to be a real nightmare on the job – a theory that my new client confirmed in a matter of weeks. Not long after I took the client, I made a new rule for myself: never work for anyone who kept me waiting. They don’t value you. To never get bullied, if you are right, you hold your ground, politely, yet firmly. However, to do that,  you must  be good at your work. You should know your subject and your delivery mechanism should be excellent.

Here are four others:

2. Being smart is not smart enough

Several years ago, a senior colleague of mine was going for a client briefing.  I wished him luck. He said jokingly, “Oh, never mind, I’m the smart one here”.

I had my doubts because it failed to account for something I learned working in difficult situations.  Being smart is rarely smart enough.

Like it or not, for the vast majority of the PR workforce, smartness alone does not bring in desired results. Success for us depends on domain knowledge and media network as well as intelligence. Moreover, how we manage client expectations and match our deliveries to them.

3. Good is good

One of my former Account Directors edited documents so heavily that when I used to send her something to review, I usually joked that the draft was on its way to “Caveat Hill.”

For important deliverables, such as, new business proposals, communications plans, news releases, briefing documents, her rigorous review process made sense. It helped produce a draft that was airtight, which is exactly how client-facing work and public materials should be.

But then there were the internal call notes and memos, and our urgent chits to one another for help and ideas, time-sheet and MIS reports, weekly internal meeting charters. Each of these items too went through the same heavy-handed review, which would have been fine except for these pesky little details there about only being 24 hours in a day. No one has the time for multiple discussions about what shade of blue to use on the agenda slide for the monthly staff meeting. Or is it left-align or box setting.  Whether a -point low font would be looking even smarter.

While I appreciate the quest for excellence, not everything needs to be perfect. Sometimes good is good enough. It’s for the best that I follow this rule in my personal life, too. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to leave my house without a professional blowout.

4. Best stories last max 30 seconds

A couple of months ago, I went out for dinner with a lady colleague of mine, while we visited an out-station client.  During the whole evening, the attractive looking lady provided me with an hour-by-hour account of her recent vacation. 

Well, two things happened immediately. She killed any hope of me visiting Bahamas in the near future,  I developed a severe headache and wasted my Argentine Bodegas Trapiche wine.

If  I had given a chance to speak, I would have shared a secret that every PR professional lives by: good stories that last 30 seconds, in Breaking News. Give the glimpse, check the audience interest and then give out the full version.

No one likes a monologue. Specially, PR is a dialogue for the joy of resolving conflicts.

5. Everyone makes mistakes; few things are a matter of ‘code’ of honour

I have worked in a few global, international or Multinational PR consultancies ( in whatever name you want to call them) during the course of my career. I am very fond of their processes and systems. I like the way they live by their codes; dress code, client handling code, presentation making code, client delivery code, and client satisfaction code. Deviations from the codes become unacceptable and serious issue.  But, ultimately it lacks the human touch.  It lacks ‘soul’.

Public Relations is a deliberate effort by one group of people or organization to sway the opinion of other group of people in their favor. Be in business, politics or social situations.  Hence, we need ‘Relationships’ to be built among ‘Publics’. It has to be humane. But then again, what do I know? I never claimed to be the smartest PR person.


( Devasis Chattopadhyay is  a Sr. VP in Adfactors PR. Opinions expressed here, in this article, are his own and no way reflects the opinion of Adfactors PR.)


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