What’s chemistry got to do with PR, you might wonder? A lot! In fact it is the one key ingredient in the pitch that you simply can’t prepare for. It’s the nature of agency PR that you partner with companies very closely, so you need to think the way the company thinks, work the way they work and BE the kind of people they are to some degree.
Basically, pitching for PR is like interviewing for a job – no matter how qualified you are, if the face doesn’t fit…
We might all consider buying a great product from a not so great sales person because we know we won’t have to put up with them for long – I remember a software salesman coming into one company where I worked and parking his car so that he blocked the cars of a couple of company employees. As a result they couldn’t get out to meetings. He sat on the desk, quite obviously on a long personal phone call, and shushed anyone who tried to politely interrupt him to let him know that he was making people late for an important appointment.
But a PR consultant is for keeps (well hopefully long term, at least!)
So when I enter the pitch, knowing full well that I know the market space inside out and I am armed with great ideas and valuable connections to impress, it’s whether I will connect with the right people in the room that most rattles my nerves.
While there’s nothing you can do to force good chemistry, a little foreknowledge of the company and people you are going to meet goes a long way to helping you relax and behave naturally. I always try to find out a bit about the company before heading off for a meeting and I like to know in advance who will be there. You can also tell a lot about a company from the style of their website – is it relaxed and modern, traditional and formal? Does anyone you know deal with this company and can they give you any valuable insights?
It’s no good turning up in jeans when they are strictly a suited and booted operation. (I’m usually an excellent judge when it comes to wearing the right thing, but even I have been guilty of a wardrobe malfunction in the past – I once found myself the only dress in a room full of suit pants. Even the women were all wearing pants… and I could swear my dress had shrunk en route because I was suddenly painfully aware of how inappropriately short it was!) Equally you won’t relax in a shirt and tie if the people you are meeting are all in mufti!
Once you are in the meeting, let smart judgement dictate your behaviour. It’s ok to try to break the ice with a joke or two, but make sure they are in good taste and they don’t push any personal boundaries! I remember an occasion when someone I was pitching with made a serious error in how familiar he could be with his audience. When the marketing director reached forward to take a handout he smacked her hand jovially and told her to wait until she had been offered one… she was notably embarrassed and didn’t make eye contact for the remainder of the meeting. Needless to say, we weren’t asked back.
That said, if you arrive in good time and deliver a clear presentation that addresses all of the company’s needs succinctly, you will often have time for a general chat afterwards – a time to explore common interests like children, hobbies, sports etc. A couple of my clients have ended up being friends for life this way, simply because we just ‘clicked’ in that first meeting.