WHY? (or, The World According to a Three-Year-Old)


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As the dad of a very curious 3-year-old (is that redundant?), I am increasingly explaining the mysteries of the world to my boy.

Why does it get dark at night?” is a current one. “How does the space shuttle get to Mars?” is another (he’s combining two separate NOVA documentaries there, my little nerd!). And “How do they shrink the trees down to make them broccoli-sized so mommy can cook them?” is a dinner-time favorite.

The bottomless supply of humor and eye-opening wonder (mine) aside, those priceless exchanges remind me of a core principal we PR folks can often forget when going about our job of developing a media strategy that we promise will achieve our clients’ goals.

We take for granted that WE know the difference between newspapers, TV stations, and blog posts and what each can do for a project. We know the readership, the circulations and the influencer base.

But the clients DON’T. That’s why they hire us.

And that’s why, when recommending any course of action that involves our expertise, we have to explain WHY we are recommending a particular course of action. Failure to do so is one of the primary ways you can break down trust in a working relationship. And it’s all downhill from there.

I am currently guilty of that sin right now, and I’m digging myself out of a bit of a hole for it.

When explaining the WHY to my clients, I think a little like a scientist and a little like a therapist:

1. Just the facts, ‘mam: there’s nothing like some good old fashioned data to show you know what you’re talking about. Circulation, viewership, recent topics or guests on a show are all good ways to allow the client to envision themselves in the place you’re recommending and get comfortable (and even excited) by the idea.

2. Add a little color: Once you have the stats down, interpret what they mean a little. For example, a midday TV show likely pulls in moms or dads (or other caregivers) who are at home with the kids that aren’t in school. It’s those people who likely make the purchasing decisions in the household, especially when it comes to groceries, school supplies and disposable income for things like a trip to the ice cream or toy store. By further identifying your audience through the data, you can extrapolate where you want to be. And where you don’t.

3. Play to their ego, but don’t lie to them: every client likes to think of themselves as important. Others think they are just amazing beyond belief. Grade-A-Plus. Worthy of being in the opening on the network news. Above the fold in the A section. Reality is, they’re competing against everyone else for that real estate, and most won’t make it. That’s not to say they don’t have good stories. So drill down on the pieces you are confident can get them to where they want to be, and caution that nothing is guaranteed. Despite the greatest relationships, you can’t make something into what it’s not.

How do you do your WHY?