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Helping Clients Off Their Deserted Island

There are some days I wish I were talented at something useful – like a scientist who understands the natural world or an engineer who understands the mechanical world. Because let’s face it, playing with words to build perception and influence audiences can only go so far. I mean, if I were stranded on a deserted island, having a communications specialist (or a lawyer or a graphic designer) suggests I would starve. I want a carpenter to build a raft, a botanist to tell me what plants I can eat without dying; a doctor to help me when I invariably ignore what the botanist said and eat something I’m not supposed to. You get the idea: a communications person doesn’t really fit into this extreme scenario.

But is it all that extreme? As I’m learning what it takes to run a business (and a communications company, at that), I’m realizing what a Sisyphean task we communicators have. We’re trying to sell our services to companies who are already on that proverbial deserted island –only their path to salvation doesn’t come from a raft but from clients walking in the door.

At the end of the day, a communications platform doesn’t provide tangible value, something you can grasp or hold on to, like a phone or a tv. A client owes Public Relations Company $50K, but refuses to pay because over the course of 6 months, the client hasn’t seen any business walk through the door.

Instead, what he’s seen has been an increase in media opportunities, speaking engagements and a positive perception built by employing communications tactics. What he hasn’t seen is an increase in clients or project work. The short-sighted business owner, who’s been told before from many PR gurus that articles in trade or mainstream publications lead to clients, not only expects to be on the front page of the New York Times, but once that happens, to get phone calls from prospective clients. The far-sighted business owner understands that over time, a positive perception in the marketplace will increase traffic. Rome, or Apple, wasn’t built in a day.

But today’s ADD/Blackberry-fueled business world focuses on the short-term, the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately philosophy. Building perception takes time, especially when starting with a company who’s been around for a while but has never thought to employ a strategic communications plan.

Our job is to serve as a marathon runner’s coach, not a sprinter’s coach. Unfortunately, a majority of our clients want the sprint, the immediate results as opposed to the strategic, thought out plans. It’s up to us to counsel our clients to look at the bigger picture and employ as many communications tactics that align with their overall business objective, so we can help them of their desert island.

About joshsternberg

Josh Sternberg is the content strategist for The Washington Post. Prior to that he was the media reporter for Digiday. Additional bylines include: The Atlantic, The Awl, Pacific Standard, Mashable, Huffington Post, Mediaite.


One thought on “Helping Clients Off Their Deserted Island

  1. Fantastic post Josh!During this latest economic downturn the primary clients we lost were the ones who had only recently decided to employ a press strategy (despite a few high profile hits). The long term clients stayed with it, realizing we can't demand results when we want them, particularly if it's only to show the guys in the boardroom what they're paying for.

    Posted by PR Cog | October 28, 2009, 2:16 pm

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