The Power of the Handshake

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By Jason Ledder, VP/Media Relations, R&J Public Relations

In the six weeks of May and early June of this year I will fly roughly 30,000 domestic miles on United.  These trips range from NDA media briefings, to tradeshows, to hospitality suites to client meetings, all with different goals.  But each of these boil down to the same key, and very basic, elements: look them in the eye, press the flesh and build the relationship.

I talk a lot about my early days in public relations.  What I occasionally leave out is that I was, and in comparison to many of the wonderful people on my team am still, an unexceptional writer.  My strengths were always in meeting and working with people.  My bosses at the time recognized that and pushed me toward media relations.  Like many in this industry, I spent most of my first year on the phone trying my hardest to get journalists on the phone for that precious thirty second pitch I’d rehearsed a 100 times in my head.  It wasn’t until my first tradeshow, PMA circa 1999 or 2000, when I saw my first true signs of success.

When I finally met some of these editors face to face, I realized something very quickly:  they were just people.  Most were friendly, but overworked and tired.  Others were stressed out, while almost all were easier to relate to than most people think.  In the end they all needed something from the PR people – news and information.

For those of you who’ve been to a tradeshow, you’ll realize that the tradeshow floor may be the worst place in the world to exchange information and build a relationship.  It’s a loud, unruly, sweat-filled zone of sore feet, tired legs and aching backs.  Needless to say it’s a tough place to make a positive, lasting impression.  But being that I was young and goofy at the time, and eager to push through the impediments and barriers of the trade show floor, our team had some wonderful successes that year.  In reviewing things after the fact with my boss, I quickly realized that I needed to shift my tactics.  I needed to meet more journalists in a more convenient (for them) environment.

The next year of my life was spent dragging a senior account manager (now partner here at R&J) around NYC and Philadelphia to meet with any reporter I could line up.  While it was an excellent training exercise for me, it also afforded him the opportunity for more face time to pitch his clients.  The result?  Relationships that are still very strong today, better and more frequent hits for the clients, but most important, better industry knowledge.

Tactics have again shifted slightly; I’ve taken most of the burden off that poor account executive and now bring clients door to door to meet with their key media.   We typically spend a solid hour with each media outlet.  We are not only discussing the key points of their product or service, but how that product or service fits in to the overall industry.  This allows us to better position the client moving forward, gain stronger media coverage and build relationships between the individual client and that key editor.    Over the course of a few of these meetings, we are able to virtually remove the sometimes antagonistic PR/journalist relationship and leave instead with a far more collegial, working relationship.   These relationships will yield dividends for our clients for years to come.

So these 30,000 miles, while not great for the environment, will do wonders for my new clients.  In the end, my point is to stop hiding behind email, social media and blanket phone calls.

Get out there, press the flesh and change your world.






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