Want to win friends and influence people? Don't assume, and open up.


I spent a good chunk of my PR career at two of North America’s biggest banks. One day, I secured the CEO a speaking role on a well-regarded panel about the global economy, complete with a TV interview with a major outlet immediately afterwards. I was pleased, the CEO was pleased (and approved the idea immediately) and I thought we were ready to roll.

Not so fast.

“Our CEO isn’t an economist,” the head of the bank’s investor relations team said when I shared the idea. “Why would we expose him to this sort of risk?”

My immediate instinct was defensive – a top-tier media and speaking opportunity, a chance to position the CEO as a thought leader and showcase their knowledge, and this is the response I get? What a silly question!

But, as is often the case with being defensive, it was me who was approaching the situation with a less-than-intelligent lens. The IR leader was rightly concerned about a different set of stakeholders who might watch the conference and TV interview – analysts and shareholders – and was worried the CEO might misspeak or overstate their concerns about the housing market.

In other words, the IR leader was doing their job, just as I was. But because we had an imperfect and imprecise understanding of what the other did, we were completely out of alignment. We were at odds with each other, when we should have been working together.

The moral of this short story for any PR professional is simple: don’t assume your partners know what you do for a living, or why you make the recommendations you make and choose the strategies you choose.

A smart colleague at another company solved this challenge by going on a “road show” – in-person meetings with departments like sales, legal, investor relations designed to explicitly explain what PR did, how it did it, and why. Importantly, each presentation was customized to show how PR can add value and create opportunity for the partner in question. It was hard to resist!

The reason this approach works is because something magical happens when you put all your cards down on the table for your partners and leave them with no doubts about how you see the world, and how they can benefit. Trust and transparency start to form the moment there is nothing to suspect, guess at or deduce because everything is laid plain and bare.

Next time you’re about to talk with your in-house partners, or your external agency, do yourself a favour: tell them more about your role and your team, rather than less. You have nothing to lose and trusted friends to gain.