It was a rough week in public relations last week. The New York Times let a business owner rant on their blog, TechCrunch took a stab at a PR professional, and Jeremy Pepper, Mack Collier, Shannon Paul, and I debated a PR vs. publicity Quora question on Beth Harte’s Facebook wall.

When we started Spin Sucks, it was with the idea that we would be able to publicly promote all of the good work the PR industry does and help to change perception that we’re all snakeoil salesmen. But, as of late, it seems everyone is highlighting the really bad professionals in our field (aren’t there bad professionals in every field?) from stray hashtag tweets and advertising gone wrong to fake personas and astroturfing. All is amiss and we only have ourselves to blame.

We have a new client. No, we had a new client. I spent a really long time with them (to the tune of nearly four months) educating them, building trust and confidence, helping them build their financial model for a new business they’re launching, and teaching them that PR (online and off) is a marathon, not a sprint. For free. They finally signed on the dotted line last month and we got started.

The relationship lasted only five weeks.

Five weeks.

Sure, we can point a bunch of fingers and say they were all in the wrong, but after I read the New York Times blog and after what their CEO said to me (“you trumped your online expertise”), I have to stop and think about what we didn’t do right.

If you’ve not read The Problem with Public Relations,” it’s a good piece to read (especially the comments), but this is the most stabbing point:

So many questions, so few answers. I have been dealing with P.R. people for a very long time. It would be crazy to categorize all public relations people as crazy, so let’s just say that P.R. people drive me crazy. All of them. As a client, as an interviewer of clients, as an avoider of clients they are selling too hard, and now as a client again. What I have finally come to understand is that P.R. people are paid to twist reality into pretzels and convince you that they are fine croissants. At some point, they actually believe their own concoctions.

What a nice generalization, isn’t it? All PR (since when does PR have periods between each letter?) people drive him crazy. All PR people are paid to twist reality into pretzels and convince you they are fine croissants. All of us.

But the point, after my blood stopped boiling, that I took away from this is that the author really believes all PR professionals do this. Our former client really believes I sold him a bunch of shit in order to get the business. Never mind in the very first meeting, he said to us, ” Don’t screw this up” as if screwing it up were the very first thing on our minds. Never mind that what I really want to do is trump our expertise to win some business and then not deliver results. And never mind that, as PR pros we all believe our own concoctions.

And it’s our own fault.

In both of these cases, the ranting blogger and our former client had a perception in their minds they thought we should deliver. There isn’t anything I can do about the perception of the blogger, but (knowing hindsight is 20/20), I should have been more careful to really understand the expectations and perception of our client. The things he wanted us to do weren’t included in our proposal, but I never dug deep enough to fully understand that, even though it wasn’t included, it was what he wanted us to deliver.

So we were working a proposal he didn’t even want. And that’s our own fault.

As PR professionals, we are part consultant, part coach, part implementer, and part shrink. If we forget one of those four things, we won’t be able to build the confidence and trust we need from our clients in order to help them build confidence and trust with their audiences. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and any of us who say we want to “create a preopening buzz so loud that it would announce our arrival from sea to shining inlet, instantly creating a name and a brand” are downright being untruthful. If we say those things to win the business and then can’t deliver, it’s not only hampering our ability to deliver, it’s killing the perception of the industry, as a whole.

I fully realize how difficult it is to determine goals and projected results before you begin working with a company, but I also know how easy it is to underpromise and overdeliver. It’s easy to educate and discuss the milestones it takes to be able to run the marathon. It’s easy to discuss the difference between PR and publicity and fully understand what it is the buyer wants from you.

If the client or business leader doesn’t want to hear it, it’s likely not the right fit for you. Let them go find a professional who will overpromise and underdeliver. After all, they’re out there.

They just don’t read this blog.

I snagged this image from Brian Solis’s blog, but I’m not sure where he got it. So thanks Brian…and whomever drew it!

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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