13 October 2009

"How can you work for them?"

As I watch the Blog With Integrity folks continue their steady streak of AWESOME, I sometimes think about that question. I've heard it a few times in the past 7 years. Typically it comes from someone I worked with in politics or health care and they hear me rattle off a client list.

Companies don't hire PR firms because they need help selling sunshine or puppies or high-quality free dental care. Generally speaking, people hire PR firms because they have PR problems. And while very few of them are actually bad people, a great many of them tend to do things that don't make them popular.

If you do a lot of issues management or crisis communications work, as I have, you're probably not interested in just hanging out with people who think exactly the way you do. You have to thrive on bringing different viewpoints together, cobbling diverse interests into coalitions, and finding influential people who cross social and cultural barriers.

But I've been asked how I can work for x company or y organization and still sleep at night. The truth is simple - this is one of very few jobs I can think of where it's important, even encouraged, to give an unvarnished and completely candid opinion to a client whose viewpoint is diametrically opposed to mine. Sometimes it's called "speaking truth to power." Sometimes it's called "tough love." Typically this counsel is confidential, and while it's candid it's also respectful. But if the information is accurate, it's often useful.

As communication has become more social, it's even easier. My job has become connecting clients directly to thoughtful people online. I'm still a middle-man, but I'm not a filter anymore. Yes, I'll try to connect clients with the people who find relevance in what we're discussing, and the odds are much better that the conversation will be a positive one. But there are never any guarantees online. And I wouldn't want it any other way.

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