It may seem pretty obvious, but if you want to do public relations well, you need to know your clients’ publics. I don’t mean your clients’ customers, but prospects or even people working in relevant industries. You’d be surprised by what you learn and how that can benefit your clients, the content you develop and the way you work with the media.
By talking to the people who actually face the problems your clients solve you will learn what causes them the most pain, what they’ve been doing to deal with that pain, where they learn about solutions, how they actually work and how technology fits into their workday. It’s basically the information you’d uncover when developing a customer case study – but with an important difference.
When you talk to a client’s customer they know who you are, who you’re working with, what you’re doing, the kind of information you’re looking for and what you’ll be doing with the it. There’s nothing wrong with this but sometimes it’s better to get the unfiltered story with no assumptions or expectations.
In my case, most of my clients are involved in ad tech. It’s a great market with lots of strong competitors, big issues and a well-informed set of media and analysts. I have opportunities to talk with client customers and find the discussions helpful. I’ve also had opportunities to talk with non-customers and have found those discussions to be even more helpful.
There are three questions you might be asking yourself at this point: 1) where and how do I meet these people, 2) what kind of information should I be looking for and 3) how can I use what I learn?
So how do you find people to talk to? First, attend relevant industry events. Not the big ones where everyone is doing the grip and grin but smaller local ones where people have time to talk. Get cards, grab drinks and have fun. Learning new stuff is cool and this is a great way to do it. A more structured approach is to tap your networks. I didn’t have any first-degree connections to media buyers but found I had a LinkedIn connection who had a ton and was willing to make introductions. You can meet people anywhere though. I was recently at a party and met a media buyer for an ad agency and chatted for ages.
Now that you have some people to talk to, what kinds of questions should you ask? Ask them how they do their jobs. Walk through it with them step-by-step. In my example of the media buyer, I wanted to know how she thought about channels, what was working for her clients, how she and her team designed audiences, etc. It was totally great to hear her perspective on things. It was different from what I’d come to expect based on working with my clients. I’m hoping to sit down with her again to actually watch the process in action. It should be very interesting.
So you’ve found and connected with people in your clients’ industry, now what? First, remember that a conversation at a party or at a trade show is a focus group of one and shouldn’t be used to make decisions or shape strategy. They provide good anecdotal information you can share with your clients. These conversations can also be really helpful in working with the media. To be able to say, “I was talking to a design engineer the other day about X” or “I had drinks with a media buyer the other night and . . .” help make you a more credible and valuable contact.
These kinds of discussions also help you better understand the markets that matter to your clients. To understand the actual process people go through in using technology is incredibly helpful. To know what words real people use when describing their work can help you avoid marketing buzzwords. To take an active interest in something that matters to someone else can make a connection you may be able to use in the future in ways you can’t think of today.
I can’t say enough about the value and benefit of taking the time to talk to people in this way and hope you’ll make an effort to try it for yourself.