Five PR Leadership Skills I Learned From My Cat

Cat
Still life with cat.

I’ve been living with cats for most of my adult life and let me tell you, they are the consummate leaders of the house and sometimes of my life. The first year that Jonny,  my current 12-year-old cat, lived with me I hardly knew he existed. He hid from me, played hard-to-get, and really, quite frankly, I thought that he hated me. At one point I actually said to my sister, “OK I’ll keep him, give him free room and board, but we’ll never bond.” Well, was I wrong. Twelve years later he not only holds my heart in his tiny paws, but he has gone on to show me some interesting leadership skills that can be brought to bear on the public relations industry.
1. Understand the the target audience. I always thought that the manufacturers of cat toys arguably were not cat owners. Why else would they develop some of the least exciting and sometimes the largest play things ever? Just leave it to a cat to find creativity in a small piece of silver foil, ribbon or fallen paperclip. Great leaders find creativity in areas that the rest of us mortals may never explore as they go off to turn a problem over in their mind to come up with a creative solution. But first, they must understand their target audience.
2. Be observant. Honestly, it fascinates me to see Jonny staring off into space caught up in what, trying to determine the scope of the universe, the distance between Earth and Mars, the square root of 16? Great leaders know how to observe others, to listen to other points of view, and to thereby help to avert conflict, solve marketing problems or to just bring new perspective into an old marketing plan.
3. Be engaging. Whereas dogs have an in-your-face style of engagement, cats are far more subtle. They will quietly appear whenever you least expect them, bringing warmth and comfort. A good leader does likewise, often in the form of a fresh approach, problem-solving guidance or just a warm word of encouragement, “Good job.”
4. Be an explorer. Open a door, put down a empty carton, take out a shopping bag, and low and behold, faster than a speeding bullet your cat will be inside exploring the new space. And if you encourage him by putting in your fingers or a small toy, well, you’ve got the beginning of a brand new game. Well, a great PR leader does the same. S/he opens new ways of thinking about old problems, brings news challenges into your thought process and helps you to expand your own creative process.
5. Don’t be judgmental. A cat doesn’t judge you by your appearance, in fact, if you never put on makeup or shave that beard, your cat won’t care. A good leader doesn’t judge someone for trying out new ideas or new strategies, doesn’t put someone down for not knowing the next step and never judges a book by its cover, so to speak. Hiring someone who doesn’t seems to fit your traditional mold can often lead to new out-of-the-box thinking from someone who approaches their tasks with a fresh mine and a new perspective.

How to Read a PR Client’s Mind

read mind
How to Read a PR Client’s Mind

How many times have you wished that you could indeed read your client’s mind? Or even better, read the mind of the prospective client? I remember pitching a cruise ship line several years ago. They had called me because I had the relevant experience just recently having launched a new ship.

After the preliminary niceties, it was decided that I would fly out to Seattle to meet with them to present our initial public relations program. But first, I asked if they had a budget. Their response was the dreaded “zero-based budget” which quite frankly means that although they probably do in fact have a budget, they don’t want to tell us because they have the misbelief that we possibly will bring the budget in for less, and then they will have “saved money.” How foolish.

So, to remove the suspense, I didn’t get the piece of business. Why? Because when the client went to the back page budget and saw the total, he screamed, “On my goodness, this is much higher than our budget.” Now, if the potential client had only told me his budget number I would have been able to create the best public relations program at that budget number. But because I couldn’t read his mind, I came in too high and could never salvage the business.

So, what has this taught me? Here is some insight into what potential clients are thinking:

  1. Can I trust her? Remember, it’s the presenter, not the presentation that gets you hired. They want you to look them in the eye and make them believe that if they give you their business, that you can truly help to solve their problems, make them richer, sell more product, whatever.
  2. Will she be there when I need her? Back in the day, I remember a noted PR firm having mandated that their staff wear pagers even when they went to the bathroom. Today, with everyone’s mania about not going anywhere without their cellphones, the need for a mandate has been eliminated. Clients want to know that they can reach you anytime and anywhere. Yup, I know, that can mean nights and weekends, but if your client has a sudden crises, like a cruise ship fire off the coast of Alaska, they want to make sure that their team is there for them.
  3. Will she be the monitor of my money? OK, so you developed a suggested budget but things happen during the implementation of a public relations program whereby you may need to spend additional monies. Don’t be an idiot and spend big money without getting client buy-in. I have never had a client tell me “no” I can’t spend that unanticipated money. I have only seen clients go ballistic when huge, unanticipated expenses come through.
  4. Will she make me look like a hero to my boss? Everyone has a boss, even the CEO who just may happen to report to his shareholders. So, when you are hired it is your job to make him look good; to make his superiors believe that hiring a PR firm was a good and meaningful corporate spend.