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May 8, 2007
It's Like That? Lessons This Service CEO Got from Shelling Out for Something Similar

Having run a service biz for a thousand years, I haven’t really thought a lot about what it’s like to actually hire one of us.

That recently changed for me big time.

I hired a publicist. Yeah, I know. Why would someone in public relations get someone to do PR? I had a burning desire to remove my new book Punk Marketing from my firm of PR pros—and get one who does nothing but books to run with it.

Results actually have been good—the owner of the company has become a trusted soul. I found, however, that I paid for a lesson on how to do business better. This is not a pan of my publicist—hardly, she works hard. This is about how to note others’ foibles, use them to look inward, and inevitably see your own mistakes in living color.

Without more blabbering, here are the questions I’ve been asking. These were meant for the PR lady. I’ve answered them myself:

  1. Why are tactics I ask about occurring without my knowledge?
    If she tells me what she’s doing, I won’t wake up in the night wondering if…hmm. Wait a minute. Do we do that here? Yes, sometimes. That’s got to stop. We don’t desire permission from clients to accomplish a deed, per se, so long as it’s in line with our scope, but still doing it and then saying later you did it makes people nuts.
  2. Is someone on her staff really not aware of the premise of my little book?
    Well, that’s obvious, but then again I better have a bunch of meetings with the teams of newer clients to ensure everyone is reading from the same playbook. That is to say: all of us know the mission of the company we are representing—we’d better! If not, fuggedaboudit. Team members playing by their own rules can screw up a good thing. There’s no “I” in ridiculous?
    • How come it takes so long to get the main deliverable (a press kit)?
      In the age of fast-fast-double-fast, taking more than a few days to deliver something you promised is a) lazy b) downright lazy or c) unbelievably lazy. I looked at the promised scopes of some of our own customers and cleaned up an act right away. Service businesses are about ATD (attention to detail), and question 3 got me antsy.
  3. Did I hear you say, “I’ll call you later; today’s my day to meet with clients?"
    What am I—chopped client? Now I don’t feel badly about the interaction with a nasty client who kept yammering on about changing team members, when I said, “Here’s a story for you. Our former President used to get bitched out by me. He’d say, "Richard, is there a problem with the work product?" I’d go, "No." “Well,” he went. “Stop bugging me.” (She went ballistic—I laughed hysterically.)
  4. Why are your e-mails so short…kind of bereft of substance?
    Am I curt to people? I started to reformat e-mails to those who pay for consultation. Now I write with salutations and everything. Dear So and So: You look marvelous! Followed by something they really should and/or want to hear.
  5. When someone says, “They all have the book,” is that similar to the time I ask a magazine store clerk for an obscure title and the dude shrugs: “No we don’t have it” without thinking it through?
    Ah, my little chickadee. Remember the answer that you don’t think through sucks. I try my damnedest not to do that. Here’s my May Day Resolution: No more saying a thing without thinking through. In media training, I say to victims: Never exaggerate anything! Or, don’t answer a question you don’t know the answer to. Or, just shut up sometimes.
  6. How come I don’t know your plan of attack?
    While this seems similar to question 1, it isn't. "Plan of attack" means someone is doing something on my behalf, and for sure I know what it is. I’m not hearing, “Oh yeah, we’re doing that because it’s part of our master plan.” On this day I took out our roster and made a few random client calls. They all knew what we were doing but seemed glad I came to see. A roster of tactics is not a plan. A plan is a plan is a plan (apologies to Gertrude). If you have it all outlined as a way to go, and everyone sees clearly where you’re headed, there are fewer questions. Like the gazillion I’ve been asking.
    • Um, is “I don’t know” your final answer?
      I’m close to the least politic person I know. But damn…I hope that when a client asks me something I haven’t got the foggiest about I promise to find out something. I started to think about the interactions of late—and realized I’d left a few holes. I made the calls. Someone felt better. I was embarrassed thinking I’d been amiss.
  7. How hard is it to do a follow-up to just see that something sent on my behalf was received?
    I’m the guy who faxes you and says, "Did you get it?" And if someone requests an e-mail or a package, I call or have someone else do it… As I was typing this, I asked my assistant, “Have we NOT checked in to see if something requested got there?” The person who claims “Yes, you didn’t have to check” hasn’t been on the receiving end of a tirade that sounds like, “Why didn’t I get it?”
    • Favorite Question: Why do you ask me so many darn questions?
      Maybe it’s me. Why do people ask questions they already know the answer to, or are able to find? (I also dislike it when people use my kitchen and ask where things are; I don’t use it, so how would I know?) Asking a customer something when he doesn’t do what you do for a living is like talking to hear yourself. In this case, I want real advice. To me, in my umbrage phase—45 years now —why can’t everyone form everything like a statement! I reaffirmed with our staff in one weekly meeting that we tell people what we firmly stand behind. “Do you want?” is dull when folks expect "This is what I think you better do."

Am I bitching? Doesn’t everyone? Fact is, I’ve learned from the process. Hiring someone who does the same work as you is worth more than you imagine. Truly painful, the process can teach us to be better—particularly when we pay the devil every now and then.

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Richard Laermer is CEO of New York's RLM pr, representing, among others, e-Miles, Epic Advertising, Yodlee, Revolution Money, Group Commerce, Smith & Nephew, and HotChalk. He was host of TLC's cult program Taking Care of Business and speaks on trends and marketing for corporate groups. You can read Laermer on The Huffington Post and on the mischievous but all-too-necessary Bad Pitch Blog. For more like this, follow him on @laermer.

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