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Is PR really in the relationship business?

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First, I need to give a huge hat tip to Jay Baer and Shannon Paul for the title and idea for this post. It’s based on a conversation Jay had with Shannon last week online. During that back-and-forth, Jay asked some very insightful questions (or in this case, statements). One of my favorites: “I’d argue that many PR folks haven’t been in the relationship business, they’ve been in the distribution business.” Shannon’s response (which I thought was spot on) “Yes! And herein lies the rub. In many ways, social media is a return to origins of PR. More human, less mechanized.”

As she does so often, Shannon articulated perfectly—and succinctly—the crux of the issue (and challenge) for many PR pros. You see, social media is really a throwback of sorts. Back to an era where PR was based on relationships. Honest to goodness, personal relationships. Oh sure, relationships are a big part of PR, but I’m talking about genuine get-to-know-you-type-stuff here. Not shotgun-style pitches to journalists that often don’t have the time or inclination to even read the email.

So often in PR, relationships do play a big role. But, it’s somtimes in the context of relationships with media members and outlets. In the traditional model, that’s what’s important. The belief: As a PR pro, your relationships with reporters will lead to more stories for clients. True? It’s debatable. But here’s the question: Shouldn’t the real relationships be taking place with the actual customer?

Stew on that for a minute.

The other piece at play here is the shift from the traditional command and control model of PR to one that’s more nuanced. More informal. And certainly more conversational and personal. It’s about having one-to-one relationships with your customers. It’s about talking to customers like human beings—not “targets”, “clients” or “key stakeholders.” And it’s about listening. Really listening to your customers. And learning and developing products and services to meet their needs.

Back to relationships.

Shouldn’t we, as PR pros, be focusing our time and energies on helping organizations develop more personal relationships with customers—not media members? Yes, traditional media outlets are still hugely important. No one’s arguing that point. All I’m saying is the traditional channels are just one piece to the puzzle now. New channels offer new opportunity to build direct, one-to-one relationships with customers. 

Put it this way: What if you had two choices. Option A: Sit down to dinner with your customer, spend two hours talking about why he or she loves your brand/what he or she doesn’t love about it, pay your check, go home and think about ways to improve your products and services. Option B: Talk with a third-party who then sits down with your customer, and talks about your brand for two hours over crab cakes and martinis. Doesn’t option A sound MUCH more appealing? More personal. No third party. And at the end of the day, you now have a relationship with your customer.

PR pros, I ask you: What are you doing to build stronger relationships with your customers TODAY?

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Is PR really in the relationship business?

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