I was on a conference call with a client today along with my colleague. We were gathering information as we prepare a release. It’s a sensitive topic and one we need to be very careful with. So I was not surprised when my colleague made a reference to being “devil’s advocate.” When I first started working 100 years ago I knew from the onset that public relations work is a lot about anticipating the worst. I used to call it “troubleshooting before the fact.” That means you figure out what can go wrong. It’s not negative thinking. Rather it’s an essential strategy for covering your you-know-what.
Actually, that’s one of the best parts about doing PR. The creativity isn’t just in the way you craft a sentence for a press release or a script. And it’s not just about the fabulous campaigns you can dream up. It’s also about how you can keep your client (and yourself) out of trouble. Being the devil’s advocate means you’re always on the lookout for what can go wrong. This is critical and I’m not overstating it. Too often, publicists or the client or both want to run too fast into an opportunity without thinking first about what could go wrong, who you may annoy (and sometimes it’s absolutely okay to annoy), etc.
One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is that rather than prioritize publicity efforts people look at opportunities as theirs for the taking. Yes, the sky should be the limit, but even the most promising prospects aren’t always the best choices. Maybe you need to wait, for example, until a new CEO is appointed before you pitch a business story to the local daily. Perhaps you should suggest a panel for a radio interview instead of one individual. PR, like sales, is a numbers game. So it’s key to have a whole bunch of pitches going to a lot of different types of media. That’s probably what makes the crazy part of the work (the unknown, the frustrations of not being called back, the almost hit but no cigar hit, etc. ) so enjoyable: the more you have out there, the more varied the responses are likely to be. After all they don’t say the devil’s in the details for nothing.