Agencies need to shut up and listen

Agencies need to shut up and listen

I was in a meeting a couple weeks ago with a bigger agency for whom I occasionally do work as a subcontractor. As I sat there, listening to them talk to their client it occurred to me that public relations and advertising agencies make the same mistake salespeople do. They don’t understand that the most powerful meeting in the world is one in which they really listen to their clients.

Then, another potential client asked me if I minded being called a publicist. I asked why, and apparently they had just met with a PR agency that told them they were no longer publicists…they were storytellers.

Sorry, but this drives me nuts. It probably goes way back to my days selling consulting services. (I think I’ve been selling the intangible all my life it seems) I had the greatest sales manager in the world back when I “carried a bag” and he gave me the best advice I’ve ever gotten. He said a successful meeting was always the one in which I spoke less than 25% of the time.  Why? Because I was listening to my clients and finding out what they wanted.

People focus way too much in PR on getting placements – publicists and clients alike. What we really need to do is know the underlying goals of the campaign and make sure our activities are meeting those goals. And we can only understand those goals by listening. We aren’t the storytellers – we’re the pitchmen. We’re the people behind the people and we need to know how to put our clients out there front and center. So THEY can tell the stories.

Bottom line, anybody that wants to do a good job providing a service really needs to know and understand his or her client. And you have to listen to do that. We need to become better listeners in order to give our industry the reputation it deserves.