Sunday, September 27, 2009

Access To The Decision Makers

In my last post Lessons Learned, I responded to the plight of a college professor and her class regarding a fundraising event for their local public library. The library board members said they loved the plan, but chose to delay the event until after the end of the semester, making it impractical for the class to actually manage it. While the class will lose out on the experience of running the event, I pointed out that they learned a great deal more than any of them anticipated. Sometimes lessons learned are more valuable than the lessons intended.

Of the ten points I offered in my post, I'd like to focus on one of them that is common in the PR business. I pointed out to the students, "you initially spoke to the library director and PR person, yet you presented and needed approval from the board." Sound familiar?

Direct access to the decision makers can be among the biggest obstacles a PR firm can face in getting a proposal of any kind approved. While your contacts may be acting in good faith and "think" they know what the decision makers really want, they miss the mark all too often. Which means when you present to the decision makers themselves, you're likely to miss the mark as well. This commonly takes two forms: A) You learn that what's motivating the need for action is not what it was portrayed to be; and B) you discover that the definition of success is different from what you were told (often because you were not clear or you were misled about the motivation).

So what's a PR person to do?

First, do whatever you can to gain access to the decision makers. In some situations this can be difficult if not impossible. I get that. I've been there many times. But often, you just have to ask and be creative in making your case. Usually, face time with the decision maker is advantageous to everyone. You can also make the case that by getting the decision maker involved in the process early, you'll not only get helpful insights, but also enlist involvement which can increase the prospect of buy-in once you present your ideas.

Second, if decision maker access is not possible, try your best to get the answers to the questions of motivation and definition of success. Too often, it's not that you're misled, so much as you just didn't ask the direct questions.

Third, find out what arguments work best with the ultimate audience. For example, do you need to provide research data to make your case, or will anecdotal information be more effective?

Fourth, in lieu of a face-to-face meeting, ask whether there's an opportunity to test your thinking and gain input along the way in writing prior to a face-to-face presentation.

Fifth, during your face-to-face presentation with the decision makers, carefully set up the situation analysis that's driving the ideas you're about to present. Gauge your audience carefully to assure that the audience agrees with the platforms from which you are basing your thinking. If not, get clarity on what you perceive to be any misunderstandings before you say another word. Then adjust your remarks accordingly.

Finally, assume your audience will say YES to your ideas! This means you should send the message loud the clear that you're ready to hit the ground running. Offer next steps and/or as complete a time-line as practical for how you'll deliver on what you presented.

This is a part of our business that isn't easy, but it's also among the challenges that separate the great practitioners from average ones. Choose to be great and share your ideas for how to meet this challenge!

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