Relationship-building starts within the community

More than a year ago, a new leader to the greater PR world invited me and a senior editor to come into his offices for a meet-and-greet.

More than a year ago, a new leader to the greater PR world invited me and a senior editor to come into his offices for a meet-and-greet. This person had little knowledge of public relations, and wanted to learn about the trends, personalities, companies, and qualities of the profession. So for about two hours we were peppered with questions, which we obligingly answered.

Before I go any further, I should say that this person is actually an amalgam of four individuals from different companies. Two of them are relatively tangential to the PR universe, so not those you would expect to see a lot of, or at most PR events. The other two should absolutely know better, and are right in the thick of the business.

Back to our example. Given the amount of time we kindly donated to the cause of educating him so he could better handle his clients and prospects, you would think he would graciously seek to extend the relationship beyond that one encounter.

Ah, well, no. He never calls, he never writes. He never returns calls, or answers e-mails. He routs us through minions who give us vague answers and no dates for breakfast or coffee. We've been dumped. But we did nothing wrong!

Well, I guess we did one thing wrong. We gave all the good stuff away, with no strings attached. Just like your mother warned you, they won't buy the chicken if you're cooking their eggs for them. On a much grander scale, agencies will find this when their ideas are plumbed through exacting RFP processes that lead nowhere.

But I'm not really talking about new business here. I'm talking about the rhythms of interpersonal interaction that make the PR profession unique and rich. This guy, these individuals, violated so profoundly an article of faith in the PR profession that one has to question, is the industry changing? Is the interpersonal relationship undermined by the ease of social networking? Or is something else at work, driving wedges in an industry that used to thrive on its sense of community and lack of hierarchical conceits?

I think that something has changed, and it's not all for the better. As a community, the industry is choosing to hoard opinion and information, even as it purports to share more than ever via Twitter posts and Facebook updates. Real relationships take work, and demand quid pro quo.

The ROI of the occasional coffee or phone call is not large, but it is cumulative and more potent over time. Some have learned this lesson the hard way. You never know who will be important to you next week, next year. An industry of nice, social people doesn't forget those who are respectful of the social mores, and those who are not.

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