Make business relationships before you need them

Relationships are at the core of both good public relations and good business in general. We hear this time and time again, but do we practice what we preach?

Relationships are at the core of both good public relations and good business in general. We hear this time and time again, but do we practice what we preach?

Between myself, my colleagues, the media, current clients, and future clients, the dialogue should always be open and mutually beneficial.

I wouldn't find it remotely uncommon to overhear a conversation between my PR director and a reporter about something completely unrelated to one of our clients. Maybe she is complimenting him on a recent piece or giving him a head's up about something she thought he might find interesting. This is how my team develops and cultivates relationships. So next time said reporter is working on a feature and looking for a business to spotlight, they will think of my director as a source.

Make the relationship before you need it. This basic principle seems simple enough, but I rarely see it put into effect the way it should be. When I make a new contact, it would be easy to see how he could benefit my business and to act on that initial idea. However, it's important to connect with him and see how I can help him – setting up a time to chat with him about his goals and interests and how they may coincide with mine.

By establishing a relationship this way, I am confident that when it comes time for him to seek help with PR, advertising, or any avenue of marketing, that Neff Associates will be top of mind. Just as my PR team wouldn't barrage editors with endless cold pitches, I wouldn't dream of cold pitching a potential new client.

The trickle-down effect doesn't just apply to consumerism; it applies to the concept of harnessing relationships, as well. Again, I exercise these rules in creating and honing relationships, as does my team. However, it goes beyond that. I even promote this concept to some of my clients, encouraging them to expand their customer-base with similar grassroots relationship-building techniques.

Even new hires and potential interns benefit from these ideas. Applicants who come to me with knowledge about our agency and a “how can I help you?” attitude always stand out above those who talk about how Neff Associates can benefit them and their experience. When we don't have openings, we encourage those interested to connect with us on social media and stay on top of what we are doing. That way they create a relationship and clear interest in us, making them all the more appealing and fresh in our minds when it comes time to look for new talent.

Whether you are a recent graduate or an experienced CEO, I have no doubt that these relationship-building tips will benefit you through every stage of your career, no matter what field you are in, but especially in PR:

1. How can I help you? Whether it's a new business contact, reporter, or future employer, make sure you always come to them with ideas to benefit them before you ask for something for yourself.

2. Connect, connect, connect: Find your new contact on social media and get connected. Add them to your LinkedIn network; interact with them on Facebook and Twitter. It's all about showing an interest.

3. Make it personal: You want people to look forward to your emails and calls, not dread them. Keep it simple like you would with your friends. Invite them out for a drink, talk about the big storm coming or Beyonce's performance at the Super Bowl - all before you start pitching your clients or yourself.

David Neff is president of Neff Associates.

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