Tips for PR Consultation: From Hack to Valuable Coach

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Seth Godin knows a lot. There. That’s my understated launch for this post.

His recent quick quip, Finding your brand essence says a lot – and then some – about how consultants should work. Lately, I’ve been mulling over related ideas.

Here’s what this post led me to chew on – and generally it came down to my frustration with the perpetuation (by well-meaning and probably well-trained consultants) of the myth that PR is a magic pill that can define brands, frame issues, and spin scenarios that make everyone dizzy with delight.

I’m just a little nauseated by the prevalence of PR-branding-marketing-savvy cluttering the general landscape these days, and Godin’s observation ties into this, I think. It also connects with what I’m reading in What Would Google Do, because throughout that book, it’s no secret that Jarvis is not a fan of PR hacks, flacks, spin doctors,and PR charlatans.

And frankly – I’ve discovered – neither am I.

This is part of what Godin gets at in his quick blip about the lunacy of hiring a consultant to define your brand for you. Or maybe what I am most troubled by is the fact that the consultant didn’t find a better way to help this company. And so his failure became a “PR” failure, when in fact it didn’t have to be.

I love what I do. I love bonafide PR. I love consulting organizations, teams, and individuals to better define and then amplify their inner mojo. Although, the former teacher in me prefers teaching to consulting – it’s a subtle but significant difference in approach.

I loathe pseudo-practitioners, who claim genius on all things brand, comms, publicity, and personality related, and frankly make a bad name for most of us in the field.

A top-tier PR pro, if brought in to help a group find their true brand selves would have found a way to tell them precisely what Godin states in his brief post. Of course, the client might not have listened, but maybe they would have, and maybe we would have scored a point for real PR work.

Here’s what good PR consultation looks like:

Macro-level observation – When we come into a setting, particularly from an objective outside perspective, we provide useful observation. What we offer may not be all that different from what many of your constituents or target “publics” already perceive to be true, bad, annoying, or useful about your organization or project – but we’ve been trained in communications, and so we generally “unpack” our observations with a bit more clarity. That’s useful for you.

Specific conversation coaching – Again, real PR doesn’t spin. However, that being said – I think lots of folks mistake great comms skills for spin-doctoring. Good PR practitioners get dynamic communication theory. And great PR practitioners are able to bring this to the level of their client and help them learn to listen, talk, and engage in new ways. This is also useful for you!

Client driven results – At the end of the session, the consultant is only as successful as his or her client is equipped. When you leave, does the client know more about good comms practice? Does the client understand their role in creating and sustaining conversations about their brand, their organization, or their product? Does the client feel equipped to better describe and discuss who and what they are and do? If not – if you came in as the expert and left without making the room smarter, you failed.

Those are just a few of my core beliefs about what makes for genuinely good PR consultation. It’s got to be useful, tangible, and easily replicated. Don’t worry, you’re not working yourself out of a gig – as your client becomes more able to do communications well, the more your client will appreciate great communications practice and theory and your value to their organization.


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