The eyes have it

Many organisations spend huge amounts of time, effort and PR budget generating relationships with key stakeholders. But it’s amazing how frequently the smallest details can undo years of effort.

Take for example ‘the roving eye.’ You know what I mean. The person you’re speaking with at a cocktail party, a work do or during a break-out session at a meeting isn’t looking at you; his gaze is directed over your shoulder, working the room assiduously for someone more interesting, more senior, more ‘valuable’.

It happened to me at an industry event recently – a doyenne of the New Zealand PR scene professed interest in what I was saying but her eyes told a different story. She should have known better.

She made me think of David.  Mr Brown was one of the most inspiring people I have ever worked for.  Tall and lean, with an iron handshake, an immaculate haircut and a considerable moustache, he was a cross between the Marlborough man and Dirty Harry.  He was also a senior executive in one of the world’s leading technology companies.

This high-ranking exec had a vital skill, a key leadership trait.  When you spoke with him, even at the most significant event chock-a-block with people who were genuinely important to him, you got the impression that you were the only other person in the room. You were made to feel that your views, your input – whatever it was you were saying – actually mattered to him.  That you mattered to him.

The loyalty he inspired, just by being plain old nice, was the stuff of industry legend.

Irrespective of whether you were a humble functionary or the CEO of a client of his, you were made to feel like a million dollars. The end result, of course, was that most people he spoke with – men and women alike – would come away from the encounter prepared to crawl over hot coals for him. The loyalty he inspired, just by being plain old nice, was the stuff of industry legend.

Relationship dynamite.  Pure PR gold.

Others before me have spoken about the fact that the organisation’s most senior executive should not necessarily be the public face of that organisation. I couldn’t agree more.  It took us at TextWrite about two seconds to realise that David should be the public face of our client and, wherever possible, we made him that. Together we wiped the floor with the competition in PR terms.

David stood in stark contrast with another client who would parachute into dinner meetings between his senior sales staff and their customers, and spend the entire evening operating his BlackBerry from his lap. How ‘special’ did this guy think he was making his customers feel?

In PR, these details count. There’s no point in spending heaps on building relationships with your stakeholders if sarcastic help-desk operators, impatient account managers or rude executives with mercenary eyes are simply going to evaporate that goodwill. [Topic for a seperate post: that’s why the PR function needs to be unshackled from marketing and given free rein across the organisation.]

As for me, the next time someone’s eyes start searching the room beyond in an effort to locate a more worthwhile contact, I shall simply break off and move on.  Mid-sentence. 

PS: David is no longer with us.  RIP, old friend. And thank you…

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3 Responses to The eyes have it

  1. Jennifer says:

    Absolutely wonderful post. There are SO many reasons why PR should be “unshackled from marketing” – good for you for highlighting what has long been a thorn in my side! Thank you for sharing the lesson from Mr. Brown. He sounds like an amazing person and I’m sorry I never knew him.

  2. sarah says:

    You are so right- even the most inconsequential of events can be ruined if you are made to feel less important than the person behind you, the mobile, blackberry etc. Having also worked with David, he did make you feel important but that laso left a huge sense of responsibility on your shoulders – not to let him down. Thanks, Pete for your observation. You always have a gift with words- wish I had a 10th of your ability!

  3. Congratulations on your blog, Pete and as one of your readers said, it’s nice to see a distinctive, but highly personal writing style. Best wishes from AMEC. Barry Leggetter

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