There was no “Hi” or “Hello” when I picked up the phone – just, “So what’s your damn excuse?”
I am used to coming up with excuses. The trouble was that I was not even sure who it was. “I sent you an email about our 20th anniversary party, and you didn’t show up. You didn’t even reply.”
At the time, I was working as editor at the St. Louis Small Business Monthly, so email announcements about anniversaries had become as common as spam messages about male enhancement. And, as far as my inbox rules were concerned, they were treated in much the same way.
As a disclaimer: I do think that anniversaries are significant. Running a business is hard. There are so many ways to fail and, at times, a great deal of luck is involved in keeping the doors open.
But here’s the question: How much does the media care about your anniversary or opening or company retreat or new book or new customer? The answer: Not at all. This leaves many business owners feeling like Rodney Dangerfield when they are on the phone with editors, news desks or bloggers. Calls go unanswered and emails unreturned. The media seems to lack any respect for the dedication and commitment it takes to successfully run a business.
But, back to that phone call.
Seeing as how I was not interested in his anniversary, but I do, at times, suffer a “decent human being seizure,” I asked him to tell me more about his company. What has helped him to be successful for so many years? Does he have wisdom to share?
What he said was this:
“We do engineering – all kinds. And we are great at customer service. Our customers love us.”
What I heard with this.
“I have no story. I have no story. I have no story.”
I heard that because great customer service is not remarkable. Almost every company claims to have it and rarely is it actually true when you interview customers. Also – anniversaries happen to lots of businesses every day. And simply doing well enough to stay open is not a compelling story.
What I wanted to hear was something greater truth. I was in the business of creating something remarkable with depth for readers. Something that was not this: “You will likely stay open longer if you have this thing called ‘great customer service.’”
In my years there as an editor, I had heard stories about business failure such as the one Eliot Frick at bigwidesky told me about killing his company. I had heard stories about overcoming what most think is a disability such as Nathan Stooke at Wisper ISP who was born with dyslexia. I spent a whole day with Attilio D’Agostino to witness the power of singular focus on your passion.
This phone call, though, was not one of those stories. At least, I will never know because he couldn’t tell me.
Here are some truths about media relations that most PR folk are probably too nice to tell you (and I am a new enough convert, so I don’t know any better):
Your story isn’t that special. At least, the way that you tell it isn’t. Most people (PR folk included) do not know what makes their story compelling. Chances are you have a great story. But, it is most likely not what you think it is.
Media folks (editors, bloggers, and social media wizards) are customers – not promotional devices. You need to serve them with that supposed great customer service. That means you will have to get to know what it is they want. And that is going to take some commitment and time from you. You need to read their publication or listen to the show or watch the video blog.
You are going to suck at media relations. This is not because you are not intelligent or capable. It’s because you need an advocate. You need an objective party that can craft something for you and can make the introductions you need.
You won’t be able to get the respect you deserve until you respect yourself enough to learn your story. Stand up for yourself. Be heard.