How much do you know about vehicles and the automotive industry? About clothing and the apparel industry? About stocks, bonds and the investment industry? About hospitals and healthcare? If you have an average, or even less, understanding of these areas, that may be enough to get by in the day-to-day. But, what happens when a new client signs on and you are now called on to provide public relations for them in any one of these or other industries about which you are unfamiliar?
The best advice is to jump in and immerse yourself in what I call “reporter mode.” Think like a reporter. Investigate.
* Set out to learn as much as possible about the company – its history, culture, leadership and vision.
* Dive deep into build your knowledge of the industry – read trade publications, local newspapers and
magazines, related blogs and social media posts and tune in to radio and TV newscasts.
* Read and listen to everything you can get your hands on to understand the trends, challenges, rules
and regulations and the evolution of the industry.
* Learn what companies and company leaders are considered the key players.
* Know about controversies and controversial characters.
* Understand previous company and industry failures, as well as successes.
* Sort out who the top competitors are and what they are doing.
* Build a comfort level in conversing on topics directly related to your client.
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Albert Einstein
Be voracious in your efforts. Begin to think like a reporter. Given the current situation your client is in, anticipate what topics a reporter would be interested in. Be prepared. Expect a reporter to ask about specific items of importance and be ready with concise, informative and relevant responses.
And remember, by knowing your subject matter well, you also are well prepared to help a reporter do his job more easily or even correct or redefine an incorrect conclusion a reporter may make. If you haven’t prepared well in advance, this, among other times, is when it will show. Whether in front of or away from the client, a lack of adequate background work will crush your credibility with all involved. That’s something that is very difficult, if not impossible, to recover from.
“If I’m setting up a new business, I’ll spend three or four months learning everything there is about that business, everything there is about that subject. Then I will find good people to run it on a day-to-day basis. But whilst they are running it, at least I will know that they’re talking about when they come back to me.” – Richard Branson
And if you are ever in that awkward situation with the client, reporter, or your boss, and you don’t know the answer to a question posed about the client or its industry, that is not the time to guess. Instead, take the time to learn and respond. You will be respected for it.
“Never get to the point where you will be ashamed to ask anybody for information. The ignorant man will always be ignorant if he fears that by asking another for information he will display ignorance. Better once display your ignorance of a certain subject than always know nothing of it.” – Booker T. Washington