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Public Relations, Business Communications, and Playing Well With Others

Updated on June 19, 2015
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I haven't always been a shameless self-marketer. Like you, I've been bombarded by salespeople since birth: "Buy, buy, buy!" Yeah, no thanks. Early in my media career, back in the days of my first job as an editor, I bristled at words like marketing and promotion. I didn't want anything to do with the sales end of the business. I didn't want to be associated with that annoying, sleazy, used feeling we all get when we know somebody's just out to get our money.

Then I wrote a book, and I had to figure out how to sell it without just nagging people to buy it. I knew I didn't want to be to others what salespeople had always been to me. So I started paying attention to marketers and PR reps who didn't annoy me, and I started re-using the ideas they used that worked on me.

Over time, I began to enjoy the challenge of crafting compelling press releases and product descriptions, and I began taking on public relations functions at my day job to continue developing these skills. Turns out the editor who hates press releases was the perfect person to start writing press releases - I knew what not to do, and I knew how to communicate professionally with other editors.

Have you invited anyone to play in your sandbox lately?
Have you invited anyone to play in your sandbox lately? | Source

That was only the beginning of my transformation into a professional media strategist. Over a decade later, I'm still the perfect person to do marketing - because I still hate being marketed to.

I say it all the time: at heart, I'm a writer. That was a big hurdle to overcome in my early marketing, public relations, and business communications efforts. I didn't know how to talk to people. I could write you a book, but I couldn't carry on small talk to save my life. I'd be perfectly happy to hide out in my home office and write my little heart out for the rest of my life and never once have to do a public appearance or a phone interview.

If you're Bentley Little, you can get away with that. If you're not, you'll probably find yourself interacting with a few people before you make any sales.

Here's the best thing that ever happened to me career-wise: I worked for a guy named Keith Johnston in Chicago. At the time, I was good enough to get the job, but by the time the job ended, I'd learned how good I could be.

Keith's a media, marketing, and event design pro. He's a guy who gets really excited about whatever he's doing, and he sees potential in everything you're doing, and he talks a million miles a minute yet somehow hears everything you need, want, and hope to see happen, and he goes to work every day because he genuinely expects to make the world a better place while he's there.

Inspiration enough for a young media strategist looking for purpose and vision in her work, right?

Plus, Keith taught me how to talk to people. Before I worked for him, I'd gotten good enough to get what I wanted most of the time, but Keith's good enough to give everybody else what they want. And, inevitably, he makes them laugh, too.

That's the key to smart marketing: it's not about you. It's about the person in front of you.

Life is all fun and games when everybody gets along.
Life is all fun and games when everybody gets along. | Source

Back in the early spring of 2010, Keith and I were working on content ideas for the opening session of a big annual conference for a well-known pizza chain. During a call to discuss program materials, Keith threw this idea at me:

"Hey, why don't you call the Governor of California and ask him to record a welcome video for us?"

He must have heard my silence, because he added, "What? He's just a guy."

Now, politicians and celebrities don't scare me. I've done enough interviews and covered enough campaigns in my career. Everybody's "just a guy," and everybody likes publicity.

But in this case, I got hung up in the logic: one company's thousand or so conference attendees vs. 37 million state residents (and all their issues) just didn't seem like a good ratio for us to get the Governor's attention.

So I had to ask: "Why would the Governor of California care about this conference?"

Keith didn't even pause to think about it. "Why wouldn't he? He's gotta love their pizza."

I've said it before, and I'll say it again and again: good salespeople believe in themselves, and that makes other people believe in them, too.

The point is, don't go in thinking about what you want. Don't even go in thinking about what you have to offer. Everybody already feels like no one calls or emails unless they want something. Go in thinking about what you might have in common.

By the way, what does any of this have to do with your book sales?

Here's the thing: it isn't just a matter of "How can I get my book into this person's hands?" It goes well beyond "business networking." This is a matter of marketing yourself as a human contact, as a helpful resource, as a professional ally... as a good person to stay in touch with. Jason Seiden is good at this. Peter Shankman is good at this. It's about creating relationships, one person at a time, whether or not there's anything in it for you.

That means talking to people - lots and lots of people.

You never know who will bring up your name in conversation or link back to your website from a blog post. When it comes to initiating those relationships, just remember everybody's "just a guy." When you actively implement that approach in your business communications, no one is unattainable. Whether you're calling the local bookstore owner or sending a press release to the editor of The New York Times or requesting a review blurb from Stephenie Meyer, you're still you no matter who you're talking to, and if you believe in yourself and what you're doing, then you have nothing to fear from being yourself.

And even if you are nervous or afraid to reach out to certain people, for whatever reason, there's no reason they need to know that. The only way to change the world is to go change it. To paraphrase Sun Stand Still author Steven Furtick, audaciousness is an approach - not an activity.

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