I have had a lot of conversations about PR over the years with prospects, clients and partners. Some of my favorite stories are when they share their other PR experiences. In fact, inquiring about experiences with other agencies – both good and bad – is one of the first questions we ask any prospect. We can learn so much by the answer to just that one question.
More often than not, it seems that PR executives make the mistake of talking too much and listening too little. I noticed this from the very beginning of my career. I would slump in embarrassment during client meetings when two account executives would not only talk over each other – as though the one who talked the most demanded the most importance – but they would consistently interrupt the client as well. It’s something I have never forgotten.
One of the most effective ways to connect with any audience is to show them that you care. One of the easiest ways to show someone that you care is to listen. One of the best ways to listen is to actively participate in the conversation – by both asking questions and repeating what you’ve heard. It’s also a fantastic way to learn new things.
I see the same mistake happening in a lot of the social media marketing taking place across social networks. It’s bad enough that so many companies are using Twitter and Facebook as a glorified news stream rather than a give and take community, but the so-called social media experts and “social marketing gurus” are making matters worse by constantly streaming their own thoughts but rarely replying, conversing or engaging their followers – often because they consider themselves newbie-Internet celebrities and can’t be bothered. To make matters worse, these type of marketers and PR hounds are using the latest “auto follower” services – a pyramid-like scheme that can increase your followers “by up to 300 per day!” Again, this has nothing to do with engaging or listening and it certainly doesn’t mean that these “gurus” know how to get other people – the RIGHT people – to listen to you or your brand value proposition.
I also see so many PR professionals who don’t want to ask questions in meetings because they feel – especially in a pitch – that they are supposed to have all the answers already. (Or, sometimes, their egos rival everyone’s in the room.) This is a classic problem with marketers and PR executives – they think asking questions shows weakness. I highly disagree – I think it shows interest, intelligence and strategic thinking.
If you’re not asking questions, you are subtly saying that you don’t care. How else will you learn about what your customers want? How do you ensure that you are headed in the right direction with your products or services? How will you uncover additional nuggets of information that might not seem obvious in a one-sided conversation?
The next time you find yourself in a conversation or – better yet – a sales pitch – think about what questions you can ask about the person or company to whom you are speaking. Ask them questions about themselves or what they offer and get them talking about what they’re passionate about. Really listen to the answers. Repeat them and ask more. I guarantee that the other party will walk away thinking you were an extremely interesting person and brilliant conversationalist.