I remember how my professors at Syracuse University would bristle when they heard a student say the reason they selected PR for a career was because “I like people.” They were offended at the implication that PR is merely about shaking hands, smiling, slapping backs, etc., rather than a serious practice within the communications field.
That said, liking and taking interest in people is not a bad thing for the PR professional. After all, the cornerstone of what we do revolves around creating and maintaining relationships. While these are mostly professional interactions, the personal side of the equation should not be overlooked.
We’re all aware that just about any meeting we participate in will start or end with small talk. It could be a discussion of the weather, weekend plans or a shared interest. This banter is a natural warm up and cool down to the business at hand and makes the work day a little more pleasant. However, it can represent more—an opportunity to learn more about your clients and co-workers. Do they have kids or play a musical instrument? Are they health nuts, foodies or travelers? These casual chats can forge important connections that will likely serve you well over the course of your career.
For example, I have a colleague that is a hardcore biker. We worked with a client that was also a biking fanatic, and the two of them would have intense exchanges that would cover all manner of bike equipment and the ungodly numbers of miles they each biked the previous weekend and for the year-to-date. While I never felt as out of shape in my life as when I listened to these discussions, I could appreciate the friendly connection between the two of them. This client has moved on, but they remain friendly and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were to find occasion to work together again.
Personally, I look forward to being one of the first on the line for the conference call to chat up the client before we all roll up our sleeves to pay the bills. However, small talk comes more naturally to some than others. Case in point: I have a friend in the business who used to drive to client meetings with his boss. On the way, he’d be asked about his family – where did he grow up, where did he live now, did he have any brothers or sisters, etc. This is nice, right? The problem was that over the course of 10 to 12 of these trips – he’d be asked THE SAME QUESTIONS EVERY TIME! It was clear his boss was going through the motions and didn’t really care to know anything about him. Not a great way to forge a connection. (While this disingenuousness would seem an unfavorable trait for a PR professional, it occurs to me that this person is one of the most successful PR people I know of. So what the hell do I know?)
Regardless, I’m going to stick with my premise that PR is a “people” business and that it is worthwhile to make the effort to get to know those with whom you associate. More often than not, you’ll find it will add enjoyment to the job and may even lead to your professional enrichment and advancement.