A bit of insight…

By Caroline Woffenden
I was interviewed by a local radio station about PR last week; what it is, how it can benefit businesses and, probably of more interest to the majority of their listeners, the inspiration and motivation behind ‘my PR journey’. I’m very clear that I find energy and drive through people – including some inspirational people I have grown up with, and some inspirational people I have worked with. I am a classic extrovert in that respect… although not necessarily the first to the karaoke stand (…not before the pint of sauvignon, anyway).

But the question got me thinking.

We often draw on our positive experiences, especially when reciting periods of our life to those whom are kind enough to ask (and ever kinder to listen). Yet on reflection the more infuriating and certainly less inspiring situations have had a greater impact on where I find myself today than the inspirational teacher or motivational boss that I quoted in my interview.

With that in mind I started to sketch out a few of my more ‘challenging’ episodes from the last 15 years or so since embarking on this ‘PR journey’ (more luck than judgement there, as I did state in the interview… to think, I was a budding PM back then…) and  realised that many of the more ‘difficult’ times have set the lessons and rules that I lean on today within my role as MD at MK. And for your interest, and potential amusement, here are a few:

“We’re looking for someone to grow with us” I was told years back, a few months into my first ‘Director’ role. Incredibly flattering. But on reflection “we’re not able to pay you” is far less appealing. Today I am not so easily flattered.

Lesson one: The first, and only rule when it comes down to it is whatever your chosen career and chosen approach, ensure there’s money in it.

And then there’s the people you meet along the way who are so consumed in shouting about the fact that ‘they are going places’ they lose sight of where to. I’m not sure about you, but I’m yet to meet someone who tells me they are happy to blob about in the atmosphere until their time comes.

Lesson two: Work with people who can articulate their brief and their aspirations. If they don’t understand them, no one else will

“We need our story to be everywhere.” I have heard this many times. In fact I’ve had nightmares about it. But that statement should be an immediate warning bell to any experienced PR. No problem should be your answer, but it’s called advertising.

Lesson three: Ensure you’re clear about what you do, and manage expectations carefully. And crucially, if you’re not right for each other (as with any relationship) say so.

The now on to the client who complains that the incumbent isn’t good enough and they are looking for ‘more’. OK, well that’s a start, but how about some specifics, huh?

Rule four: Get a clear understanding of what is being asked of you. Spend your time doing what’s needed.

And the utterly devastating memo which states, “Thanks for all this but it’s not really what we are looking for.” The busy fool. I’ve played this card extremely well in my formative years, but learnt a great deal from it. I like to think I’m a little more savvy these days… possibly…

Rule five: Measurement and evaluation. Agree them and report against them. End of.

And finally, possibly my personal favourite, those situations when you’re not required to pull together a formal proposal “just a list of ideas about how you’d approach our business”. I often hear myself talking about being discerning. I try to be – no, I am – discerning about the people that I work for, and the people that I work with. For us PR’s our commodity is our time. It’s the same for many businesses.

Rule six: Use your time wisely.

Agency life can be fast paced: you never know what’s around the corner – but that leads to an exciting, dynamic and very rewarding environment if you let it. As with everything, you get out what you put in. I feel very lucky to be doing what I am doing, with the people I am doing it with – and with grateful thanks to all of those along the way that have given me something to think about… for better or for worse.