Having the Right Attitude in Public Relations

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Over the past decade, I’ve been yelled at by many people, and in many capacities. As a journalist, I had CEOs, public relations consultants, and lawyers heaping verbal abuse on me every week. Every one of those incidents served to remind me that people have different ideas of what is appropriate behavior, be it in the privacy of one’s home or in the workplace. Emotions ride high when money or one’s image is on the line. But you’ll find the old proverb “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” is still apt in the world of public relations.

I applied this idea recently on three occasions. Two of them involved dealing with journalists. In the first instance, a journalist published a story that included a number of erroneous “facts.” I simply ignored the issue because his errors did not create a problem for my company. The journalist then inquired as to whether or not my company was pleased with his story.

“Yes, very much so,” I said. “I think you did a nice job of capturing what we’re doing here.” What was the point in nitpicking about a couple of misspelled names? I’ll just make sure it does not happen again.

The other incident occurred when a television producer cancelled a scheduled appearance. It was the third time in three months that this same producer had cancelled on me. The producer informed me of the cancellation via voicemail well after business hours, but three days ahead of time, a sign that she wanted to avoid some sort of confrontation over the issue.

“Thanks for the call,” I wrote to her. “I understand how the news cycle changes, and I realize you’re under a lot of time constraints. Keep me in mind for the future please.”

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The producer replied by booking me again the following week.

The third incident involved a public relations consultant. The PR guy was trying to sell me on his company’s services; I told him repeated via email that I was not interested. The man was persistent, however, and I felt that he earned the right to be heard out. Perhaps he could actually sell me on his firm.

What I thought would be a rather simple sales pitch turned into a diatribe about how I “had ignored PR too long.” This public relations consultant spent a good 10 minutes telling me everything I had done wrong, that I was not generating as much publicity as my competitors. He said that he found only a “handful” of press mentions of my company in LexisNexis and that I was “squandering an opportunity.”

“You need to hire a PR firm, because whoever is doing your PR now does not have a clue what they’re doing,” he told me.

I listened quietly as he told me how he was going to “score [my company] tons of ink.” He talked about success with past and current clients. He talked about how to best utilize press releases, and how we needed to “get serious about PR or our business would be hurt.”

When he asked me for thoughts, I responded with a simple statement: “I don’t think you have the right attitude to work with us.”

It was not just that the guy was wrong, but he was wrong at the top of his lungs, to paraphrase Spencer Tracy from “Bad Day at Black Rock.” Every time this public relations consultant mentioned some sort of “fact” about my company’s public relations practices, he was dead wrong. This is unfortunate because he actually had some good ideas that I may very well use. Had he come at me with the right attitude, I would have had no problem asking him for a proposal, and no qualms about pushing that proposal internally. Instead, his attitude got him nowhere.

Years ago, a baseball coach told me that I could go far on the field. It was not because of my 5’7″ frame, my lack of power, or my slow base-running. “You have the right attitude,” he told me. “You know what you need to do to get the job. That’s what we look for.” It’s an idea the public relations industry should take to heart.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (https://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (https://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: https://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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