One of the Most Important Lessons They Forgot to Teach You in PR 101

As a PR pro, we are often tasked with the impossible. We’ll come across clients who have little understanding of how PR and media relations actually works, and their first request of us will be an above the fold piece in the NYT. Anything less and we are not valuable in their eyes. After all, we are paid to deliver. The moment we stop delivering, our pockets will become empty and our bellies will start to growl; our livelihood is directly tied to our client’s expectations.

Most professions have the luxury of being grounded in pretty well defined and shared expectations. You expect an airplane pilot to do nothing more than deliver you to your destination. Even if the flight is delayed, and you arrive hours after you were supposed to, the pilot collects the same check. A trauma surgeon has the daunting task of saving lives, but if their patient dies on the operating table, they still get paid. Even the emotionally destroyed family of the deceased understands that the surgeon did all they could and should not bare the weight of the loss, personally or professionally. I understand that these comparisons are a bit silly, but there is some truth here. You see, unlike these fields, PR is all about perception, and our fate is determined by that perception. There has to be some of level of irony there.

A recent piece in Forbes listed the PR Executive as the 6th most stressful jobs, and it’s no surprise. No matter how hard we work, or how talented we are, we are only as good as our clients perceive us. So what can we do to combat this? The answer is simple, and something that should be taught in every PR class around the world – SET EXPECTATIONS.

Setting expectations gives you the edge by aligning your client’s expectations with reality. It can also be a great hedge mechanism that will end up magnifying positive results and minimizing less than favorable or lackluster results. So here’s how you do it:

Set Them Early – Let’s say a client brings you in to work on an announcement regarding a new product. From the get-go, explain the challenges of getting press and what you think the best approach is. Don’t be afraid to bring them down to reality. They may think they are the best thing since sliced bread, but that doesn’t make them newsworthy.

Don’t Overshoot – If you aren’t sure what kind of results you can get your client, don’t tell them what you are going to get them, tell them how you are going to go about it. Your strategy and tactics. If those are impressive and show your expertise and the lengths you are willing to go for them, then you are positioning yourself well, no matter the outcome.

Over Deliver – By not promising specifics, any positive result (article, interview, new relationship) will be icing on the cake. You’ve already told your client just how challenging it will be to get any coverage, yet you got some, and on the way you’ve built relationships with key reporters! That’s what a PR pro does. That’s what you get paid for.

PR is hard enough. We don’t deliver tangible goods, we don’t make anyone money (directly) – we work in the abstract, communicating and storytelling. The impact that a good PR pro can have is immense but often times hard to quantify. In today’s world of ROIs and KPIs, this only makes our jobs more challenging. By learning how to set expectations and doing so often, you will do wonders for how your clients perceive and value you.

What other things should be taught in PR our Comms classes that aren’t?


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