When viewed through the prism of my 25 years in Public Relations this statement comes as no surprise. PR are people are (or should be) masters at selling – pitching ideas to journalists, moving clients to part with more budget for a project or, better still, persuading them not to make that angry call to an editor to complain about a story.
Yessiree. We PR people peddle influence for a living and yet few of us would refer to it as sales. It’s more often called spin, hype or just plain, garden variety, down in the dirt ‘PR’ – and that’s by the people who work in the industry! Still, that’s the crux of Pink’s argument. The very mention of the word sales conjures up the sleazy, slimey, tricky real estate, used car or (dare I say it) PR person stereotype.
Pink maintains this is so because of the ‘buyer beware’ world we’ve previously experienced, epitomised by pushy sales people who adhere to the ‘ABC of selling’ mantra made famous by Alec Baldwin’s uber-salesman character in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross – Always Be Closing.
And if you need further evidence that selling is a greasy business take a look at the shonky builders and financial advice telephone scammers that provide plentiful fodder for current affairs programs year in, year out.
In To Sell is Human, Pink reframes the concept of sales from the slick insurance, real estate or advertising sales person to anyone who spends the bulk of their day persuading, influencing or moving other human beings. And if we’re all in sales now, we need a new set of ABCs – Attunement, Buoyancy and Clarity.
My contention is that business communicators and PR are people should be ahead of the pack on these new ABCs. Here’s why:
Attunement is the first rule of story pitching to journalists. It’s not what your client wants to say about their product or service, it’s what will spark the interest of the readers/viewers/listeners. Every PR or business communication professional knows (or should know) how to fashion a message that will resonate with the stakeholder audience whether it’s your employees, your clients or your company accountants.
Buoyancy means resilience or being able to bounce back from rejection after rejection. We PR people should be pretty good at this. After all, show me someone who says they have a 100 percent hit rate with story ideas or new business pitches and I’ll show you someone who believes their own hype! Most professionals I’ve worked with are pretty balanced in their reactions to rejection or things that are beyond their control. Others are either irrepressibly positive to the point of delusion or they are remarkably thin-skinned, too ready to blame themselves or someone else (usually a cub reporter or junior member of staff) for a not so brilliant outcome.
Given that the words grace and humility are rarely heard in conjunction with the PR profession I’d say we have a ways to go in convincing ourselves, and others, that PR people are truly proficient in Buoyancy.
For me, Clarity is the most intriguing of the new ABCs. Clarity is about asking the right questions, providing a different lens through which to view a situation, perhaps even tapping into problems the people they are trying to sell didn’t know they had. Being able to see the wood for the trees in someone else’s predicament isn’t always easy. Neither is helping someone with their problem when there is little likelihood it will end in a sale for you. This is really hard to do, particularly when the pressure’s on – you need that job or the client will sack you if you don’t get some decent publicity for their widget. This takes more than just clarity in my opinion – it takes genuine selflessness and the ability to take a long term view.
Pink sums it up best when he says, “Whether you’re in traditional sales or non-sales selling, the low road is now harder to pass and the high road – honesty, directness and transparency – has become the better, more pragmatic, long-term route”.
Like I said earlier, business communication and PR people should be a step ahead of the game when it comes to these new ABCs of sales. But are we?