Sometimes the best data about effective public relations doesn’t come from an external partner, a campaign, focus groups or media hits. Sometimes this data comes from the person sitting right next to you. And sometimes the highest-impact public relations is not what happens with the general public, but what happens with the right public, even “inside the tent” — among peers, colleagues and partners. It’s not always what the man or woman on the street learns about your issue that matters. I was reminded of this truth last month by a trusted friend in this business. The story isn’t a complicated one, but has had a profound impact on the way I look at my work, and my goals.
The learning moment happened during a large event in Washington, D.C. that was the result of months of planning, careful timing and meticulous negotiations. The event brought together over a dozen partners, international and domestic, on one of the hottest topics affecting the globe today. As I entered the auditorium I was excited by the turnout. It was, indeed, “standing-room-only” (a term I love to employ whenever it happens to be true!) and there was a positive buzz in the place. People had turned out to hear what I knew was going to be a powerful program with exciting announcements and a chance to put the spotlight on an issue that matters to me, my job, and my world.
After scanning the crowd, however, I started to become disillusioned by the faces I was seeing. Usually I love recognizing people, but in this case, I was disappointed that there weren’t more new people in the crowd. At that moment, my friend returned to her seat, the only open spot, right next to me. I told her I had hoped to see more new potential allies or supporters in the audience.
The program was phenomenal. I was inspired by some of the remarks and the new approaches I heard. Again, I was wishing that more new people had been there to take part in it. As we mingled out into the foyer for the reception, my friend took me aside. With just a few words and in the easy, elegant way she has about her, she said, “You of all people, Aaron, know the value of a good ol’ fashioned ‘Pep Rally.’ Sometimes you need to get the right allies in the room, inspire them, and give them their marching orders. That’s what we accmplished today. It worked.”
She was absolutely right. At first, I was ashamed that I hadn’t embraced the value of a well-executed event that put the right people in the room to motivate them to do more, and do it better. These were the people who needed to see that their work was valued, urgent, and important to the world. Like a good staff meeting (only in this case for a community, and not a company), the gathering was smart PR because it built a network of support among the most influential of influencers.
I left the event with a new appreciation for the art of the “Pep Rally” — and for friends who take the risk and the time to help remind me of what matters and why I love what I do.