One of things I encourage any PR person to do is dig deep and go wide. Let’s cover deep first. Deep in your understanding of what your company or client does, including the products and technology, partners and customers, markets served and competitive threats. This knowledge will enable you to be an effective first contact for reporters that are interested in what your company does or wants to learn more about what makes its market tick. This knowledge not only makes you credible to reporters and analysts, but also to the executives, product teams, sales people and anyone else that lives and breathes what your company does every day.
It’s also important that you understand your or your client’s business so you can help shape the company’s story as it evolves. This will help put context around the moves the company makes as it progresses through its various stages, and help you explain these moves or changes to press and analysts so they are viewed as part of a larger plan. It also makes a difference as you pitch reporters and analysts and walk them through the value prop, market relevance and how whatever announcement you’re making fits within the overall corporate strategy. During interviews, you can help keep the story on track and make suggestions to your spokesperson about how to frame certain aspects of the conversation.
When I tell PR people they need to be wide, I mean they need to be able to carry a conversation. We’ve all been there, at a dinner with the CTO of a client and a reporter that have nothing in common other than the topic of discussion. It’s part of the ritual. Not so much about delivering the news, but about the relationship so that mutual respect and a connection can be created that can provide value over time. The problem is, everyone at the table comes from different backgrounds, with different interests and influences. Part of your job as a PR person is to keep the conversation flow going so that there aren’t the awkward silences that leave both the executive and reporter leaving the meal unsatisfied. By wide, I mean you need to stay current on a wide range of topics from the environment and science to music and current events, so that you can help start or foster conversations as everyone gets to know each other. The point isn’t to dominate the conversation, but bring up topics that the other two might have some knowledge of or an interest in discussing as the ice is broken.
To help develop a wide data set, I often suggest reading Time, USA Today and a publication specific to your industry. You don’t need to be the expert, but you do need to be able to start a conversation, or several conversations, during a meal or over drinks and this base of information can be helpful. Not every interaction will require you to be deep or wide, but it’s always good to have the ability to do either when needed.