We’re all brilliant at writing content – but are we brilliant at targeting it and using the right channels to push it through?
It is said about the PR people that they are wonderful networkers: that they know their counterparts, in-house and agency very well, that they have various networks and plenty of influence and, if someone needs a favour, they know exactly who to talk to.
If you work in an organisation and wish to draw the attention of another organisation’s CEO or President/Chairman on a certain issue, or if you wish them to take action on something, there are some unwritten rules of both protocol and practicality that you may wish to familiarise yourself with
1. Know your place
As the Comms/PR person, you can never ever sign a letter/invitation/request addressed to them. That is impolite and inappropriate. The word “counterpart” should not be taken lightly, neither in the private nor in the public sector. It’s only your CEO/Chairman/President who should be writing to/addressing another CEO/Chairman/President.
2. Use your intellect
When you are aware of such communication imminently taking place, use your contacts in those organisations (if you have them, of course).
If we claim that the PR/Comms people are the ones who have the power and knowledge to alter the course of a business for better or for worse, this automatically implies that we should have “open access” to the leaders of that organisation. Therefore, let your counterparts (i.e. your PR/Comms colleagues) know that a letter/invitation etc. is heading their CEO’s/Chairman’s/President’s way and ask for their help in making it, at least, seen/read.
3. Pick up the phone
Our jobs, at least in my experience, have a lot to do with opening doors and knowing who to speak with and, most importantly, what to say and when to do so. Therefore, leave “content” and “copywriting” aside for a moment and pick up the phone to speak with the right person. Lately, we seem to have forgotten that “phones” are about making phone calls as much as they are about texting and posting on social media.
There is another side to my advice in this blog post – should you choose to ignore it, you may cause offence or give rise to unwanted issues between your organisation and the organisation you want something from.
The higher the organisational ranking a message recipient has, the softer the gloves and the approach we should deploy. A CEO/President/Chairman of an organisation is not your buddy nor a person with whom you can afford to have an unguarded attitude/approach: personal (buddy) is very different than professional (higher hierarchical echelons).
How you address these unwritten rules of professional/institutionalised protocol tells a lot about you, the Comms/PR person and, also, about your organisation. Faux pas happen not only in diplomacy and politics, they also happen in professional settings. You can really disengage a potential client/partner by using the wrong approach or an inappropriate style of addressing.
Put yourself/or your organisational leader in your counterpart’s shoes: what would you say if your CEO got a letter from an Account Executive, asking him/her for something that would benefit that Account Executive’s agency/employer?
Remember those Maths classes where the correct result was less important than your proving how you reached it? It’s the same here: know your publics, differentiate between various layers of seniority, and keep in mind that how you get from A to B is, at times, more important than reaching B.
Know what works and where the boundaries lie. Pretty much, if you know your “yes, please” and “thank you”, you’ll also understand why manners and knowledge are as important today as they have always been, perhaps even more so. You know why? Because professional conduct and unwritten behavioural rules are very important in what we do.