A colleague of mine is a huge Syracuse University basketball fan, so much so that she came into the office decked out in her orange gear when March Madness officially kicked off. She asked me if I was planning to watch the game that night, which I was, and followed up by asking how I thought the Orange would fare against TCU*. I was concise in my response, saying that I thought it would be tough, but “as long as ‘Cuse can handle the ball and defend against the other team, they have a solid chance of winning.”
“You don’t know anything about basketball, do you?” she asked.
A beat passed before I replied, but by then it was clear that I, in fact, know nothing about basketball.
I originally thought it was my pause that betrayed me, but really, I betrayed myself when I opened my mouth. While my response may have been concise, it was generic. It lacked insight. I couldn’t help but think how a lot of PR practitioners have surely felt the same way at some point or another in their career.
Picture this: You start working with a new client or hop onto an unfamiliar account and need to hit the ground running. The problem is that this client represents a niche or complex industry, one you have yet to learn much about. Never mind, you think, I’m a pro and can dive right in. So you draft up a pitch and start going after key trade publications. You’re firing off emails left and right, and you’re feeling productive. Cut to the offices of Respective Trade Publication Times, where Bob Woodward (not that one) is busy writing a detailed, highly technical article. Your email pops up in his inbox and, by some miracle, he reads it immediately. He then scoffs and deletes your email without any hesitation. It wasn’t poorly written, Bob thinks to himself, but this person clearly knows nothing about my industry.
Had you sat down and taken the time to familiarize yourself with this industry, this scenario could have been avoided. Instead, you dove in too quickly without doing the proper research, and now Bob Woodward thinks you’re an idiot.
PR practitioners need to be experts in every field they represent. There’s no room for any sort of pseudo-expertise, so make sure you’re taking the time to properly and thoroughly research your client and their industry. It’s easy to get caught up in the tactics, but we all need to see the forest for the trees and keep the overall strategy in mind.
That being said, I still can’t tell you about the intricacies of college basketball. But that’s on me.
By Nick Guadagnino
*The colleague in question would like to specify that SU did end up winning that game.