Agencies need to shut up and listen

Agencies need to shut up and listen

I was in a meeting a couple weeks ago with a bigger agency for whom I occasionally do work as a subcontractor. As I sat there, listening to them talk to their client it occurred to me that public relations and advertising agencies make the same mistake salespeople do. They don’t understand that the most powerful meeting in the world is one in which they really listen to their clients.

Then, another potential client asked me if I minded being called a publicist. I asked why, and apparently they had just met with a PR agency that told them they were no longer publicists…they were storytellers.

Sorry, but this drives me nuts. It probably goes way back to my days selling consulting services. (I think I’ve been selling the intangible all my life it seems) I had the greatest sales manager in the world back when I “carried a bag” and he gave me the best advice I’ve ever gotten. He said a successful meeting was always the one in which I spoke less than 25% of the time.  Why? Because I was listening to my clients and finding out what they wanted.

People focus way too much in PR on getting placements – publicists and clients alike. What we really need to do is know the underlying goals of the campaign and make sure our activities are meeting those goals. And we can only understand those goals by listening. We aren’t the storytellers – we’re the pitchmen. We’re the people behind the people and we need to know how to put our clients out there front and center. So THEY can tell the stories.

Bottom line, anybody that wants to do a good job providing a service really needs to know and understand his or her client. And you have to listen to do that. We need to become better listeners in order to give our industry the reputation it deserves.

  • Rufus Dogg
    Posted at 12:32h, 23 May Reply

    Storytellers?? I thought you guys were Situation Engineers??

    I think publicists are more like carnival barkers. Their job is to craft the right pitch to get the client show noticed and attended. Once they’ve gotten the attention of the media, the damn show better be worth the price in admission and attention. I could be wrong, but I think a lot of clients think you also should craft and put on the show… otherwise, why would some publicists feel they need to take on that role as well?

    I think in any industry, we should listen 75% of the time. If there is anything wrong with social media is we’ve all been given these tool to yell out our voices and care little about what anyone is saying. Like the Ladders commercial… if they let everyone play… well, what social media does is let anyone talk, interrupt, yack, yack, yack… and it’s getting worse as we give more people more permission to talk without regard for anyone else around them.

    With that, I yield….

  • bonnie
    Posted at 13:54h, 23 May Reply

    oliver, I love that spanish translation! B.

  • Jeff
    Posted at 08:00h, 24 May Reply


    First of all congrats for the wedding earlier this month! 🙂

    I would tend to agree, it is more powerful to listen to the client and then afterwards under one form or the other rephrase the client’s needs to him/her/them.

    It shows you listen, they can see that you really understood what they meant, wanted and (depending on the industry, but here we are talking services) that you are not repackaging to them a standard solution.

    That said some industries are plagued by waffling and talking to impress…follow my ex-consultant gaze…;)

    Have a good day.

  • James Ranch -- Customized Signs
    Posted at 08:24h, 24 May Reply

    I think this is just people in the market trying to make themselves sound better or different. We all provide very similar services and so it is difficult to really figure out who to hire from the clients perspective. They are doing this because they think it will help clients choose them (I doubt it will work).

  • Mia
    Posted at 02:51h, 24 May Reply

    You know that series of images with the tree swing, portraying what the customer wants and how the company really understands it? – it fits perfectly in your post.

  • Pingback:The power of listening | Wax Blog
    Posted at 12:58h, 26 May Reply

    […] new here, you may want to subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!On Monday I talked about why agencies need to be better listeners. It seemed to spark some interest in readers and I found myself critiquing my own listening skills […]

  • salmon online
    Posted at 00:36h, 11 June Reply

    Wise words. Thank you for taking the time to put this together. As Tom Peters also wisely stated, “Listening to customers must become everyone’s business. With most competitors moving ever faster, the race will go to those who listen and respond most intently to customers.

    When it comes to handling complaints, there are two types of companies in the world. There’s the company that treats the complaint as a disease and then there’s company that treats the complaint as an opportunity. With competitors moving ever faster, the race will go to those companies who treat the complaint as an opportunity — who listen to customer complaints and respond most effectively to them and who support those who are closest to the customer. Listening to customers must become everyone’s business.

    I love your blog – you never disappoint.


    • bonnie
      Posted at 06:22h, 11 June Reply

      Megan, first of all thanks for the kind words. Second, I love your remark about companies it is so true. I think that companies can also change. I recently had an issue with Comcast and boy, was their customer service miles better than a few years ago. I think they can turn it around but it’s a painful process.

  • high intensity focused ultrasound
    Posted at 23:22h, 02 December Reply

    I think we all have something to say but sometimes it’s nice to just shut up and listen to what others have to say, for all we know they could have a better idea than us. Plus it also means that we value other people’s opinion and insights which makes a better relationship for both parties.

  • Yousef
    Posted at 15:31h, 18 October Reply

    That’s a smart answer to a dilficuft question.

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