If the 1980’s movie Footloose taught us anything, it’s that there is a time and place for everything under heaven. In the town of Beaumont, it was time for Kevin Bacon and his friends to finally have a dance.
In business and specifically in PR there are appropriate times to have specific conversations and other times where it’s not appropriate. You can do everything right in a new business meeting or a media interview and destroy it with one improper or inappropriate conversation.
In my experience, this happens more regularly than you’d think. Most of the time when this happens, the offending party doesn’t even know or realize it’s happened but the reporter or potential new clients does and as a result doesn’t write about the company or engage in an ongoing relationship with that person.
Here are some tips to consider during the interview process or when pitching new business to avoid saying something inappropriate that may cost you desired media coverage or a potential new client.
- Avoid sexually inappropriate conversations. In one business meeting an individual told a story about a friend who provided medical services to a local prison. He proceeded to tell about an inmate who had cut a specific part of his body off and how his doctor friend had to go in and evaluate if it could be reattached. This conversation was not appropriate but was made even more awkward by the fact that the other participants in the meeting were all female. The story was not even necessary to the conversation at hand and left the other participants wondering why the story was even shared and why he decided to tell the tale.
- Avoid cursing. I never recommend a client use foul, profane or curse words in a media interview or new business meeting. My mother always said that swearing and the use of crude language was a sign of a person that couldn’t think of a more appropriate or descriptive word to express themselves. I agree with this and while a properly used curse word can convey a strong emotion or meaning, I advise that you avoid using this type of language, especially when you don’t know a person very well.
- Be discreet. I have a friend that works with a medical spa. This medical spa provides a number of services, including laser hair removal. My friend provides PR services for the company and found an opportunity with one of their target publications to talk about laser hair removal. One of the questions the editor wanted to ask was about laser hair removal in private areas of the body. My friend was unsure how to approach the client about this question and tread lightly. He was more embarrassed than anything else but was discreet in approaching the client. It turns out that this question comes up quite regularly and is something the client deals with on a daily basis and was not offended or worried about answering the question. The client did appreciate and respect my friend’s sensitivity to the line of questioning.
- Be honest. Honesty is always the best policy. I always feel that if you’re hired to provide a service you should be bold and honest in providing that service. Just because you’re being paid by a company doesn’t mean you should simply take orders, “Can I super-size those fries for you?” You should share your expertise and provide guidance and strategy that will help them accomplish the objectives they’ve hired you for. Honesty does not equate to being mean or insubordinate in any way, but rather you tell the client if something isn’t right or is being done incorrectly and teach them the proper ways to do it.
One key to remember is that you’re always on the record. A lot of these instances happen during lunch or dinner appointments where people let their guards down and think there are differing rules simply because an interview or meeting is over. Don’t let the fact that you think a meeting is over or that the meeting has shifted to a social scene derail you from applying the tips above and keeping the conversation on a professional and appropriate level.