CommunicatorsBy Gini Dietrich

For most of my career (until I started a communications firm of my own), I did what is called AgFood PR.

We used the phrase, “…from the farm to the fork” to describe what we did because it was communicating everything from growing America’s food source to preparation and even eating out.

I learned not only how to grow food and how to prepare it, but how to eat in the fanciest restaurants with confidence (it’s an art and there are many rules!).

Many of the communicators I mentored were taught how to order wine for a client and how to “pick” potatoes every late fall/early winter.

I loved that world a great deal. In fact, if it weren’t so competitive, we’d be doing more of it (and will someday).

One of the things that is different about how I was taught communications is to go out into the field and work with the sales reps.

I’ve spent many a day in cornfields, identifying weeds or insects and recommending herbicides or insecticides. I’ve spent many a day in professional kitchens, learning how a chef might use catfish or cranberries or juice in their recipes. I’ve spent many a day on manufacturing floors, learning how to package frozen foods.

These are things you would not expect for communicators, but it is extremely important for us to fully understand how our clients work, what their sales process is, why customers buy (or don’t) from them, and how that all integrates with communications.

When a Communicator Gets Fired

Five years ago, an executive fired his PR firm in the comments of a BusinessInsider post.

As some blogs are wont to do, they published a pitch from the executive’s PR firm. It touted the executive’s very controversial opinion on music startups and it offered an interview.

It was a pretty good pitch.

The only thing the PR firm did wrong, of course, was mass distribute the same email to many journalists and bloggers.

Had they done their research, they likely would have discovered Dan Frommer isn’t one to interview executives; rather he prefers to use his ink to knock down anyone and everyone he can find.

But the firm’s client was, apparently, fed up.

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I was reminded of this story when Timehop Abe told me I tweeted it five years ago (I LOVE that app!).

BusinessInsider got a lot of mileage out of the snafu.

They went on to write, “When PR Firms Get Fired,” and “90% of PR Firms Add No Value.”

As much as I’d like to discount the latter story, I agree. And my AgFood experience is why.

PR Metrics

Last week, PR metrics extraordinaire, Katie Paine, wrote, “The #1 Reason Why PR Gets No Respect: Stupid Metrics.”

In it, she describes how communicators are focused on measuring activities, not outcomes.

Many communicators still track advertising equivalencies, media impressions, and an increase in Facebook likes or Twitter followers.

She calls for a clearing of the cobwebs and a focus on what’s important: How the work we do affects an organization’s growth.

A couple of months ago, I spent a really long time writing about PR metrics for you. If you haven’t read and bookmarked that, I encourage you to do so.

Not for my ego, but for you to understand how you can measure the things that really matter.

The 10 Percent of Communicators Who Get it

Then I want you to return here and think about how you can be in the 10 percent of communicators that really get it.

The things you have to have a really grasp on are:

  • Strategy. For some reason, strategy is really difficult for many communicators to understand. Think about it this way: What do you want life to look like a year from now? Now take that same thinking and put it into play for your client or for the organization where you work. Ask yourself what success looks like in a year. What will you have accomplished? Where will you have made the most improvements? What fun things will you have done? That’s the strategy. If you can’t understand, strategically, where the organization is going, you won’t be successful in generating results.
  • Conversations. Just like my AgFood experience, you have to actually go out and talk to people. We all work in this virtual 24/7 world where it isn’t necessary to meet people in person. And that’s great. It certainly makes us more efficient, in many cases. But it also hampers our ability to really understand our organizations, the customers, the detractors, and the industry. The communicators who will win talk to journalists about their opinion on your organization…and your competitors, if they’ll share that. Ask them about the industry. Go into the field and work with the sales reps. Get on to the manufacturing floor. Often. Talk to customers. Talk to former customers. Learn as much as you can.
  • Sales Process. I know some of what we do can’t generate leads or convert to customers—because it’s building awareness and reputation—but you should most certainly learn about the sales process. How long does it take? What kinds of questions do prospects ask before they buy? Is there anything that prompts an uneducated buy (like a new brand of toothpaste or laundry detergent)? What concerns do customers have? What solutions do you have that can solve problems? You have to understand the answers to these questions to make the best recommendations.
  • Consensus. It’s really, really difficult to gain consensus and involvement from executives who think they are hiring a PR firm or in-house team so they can walk away from it and let the magic happen. Au contraire! The more involved an executive is, the more successful communicators will be…because an organization’s audiences want to hear from the big guns, not the PR team. It’s your job to figure out how to build consensus and keep them involved. In some cases, it may be to require their attendance at a weekly meeting and, in others, it may be showing up in their offices once a month with a laundry list of things to cover.

I could, of course, go on and on, but this is a really good start on helping you stand out from the crowd.

It will help you better understand how an organization works before you try to execute on something that may or may not make sense.

What else would you add?

photo credit: Tim Dolighan

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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