By Blake D. Lewis III, APR, Fellow PRSA Earlier this month, I had an opportunity to spend time with a group of students in Baylor University’s Public Relations Agency course.  As an elective for juniors and seniors in the Journalism, Public Relations & New Media department, the class focuses on both the creative and administrative work that occurs in an agency setting.

During our time together, teams of aspiring public relations consultants shared their experiences with what is best termed their “Meet the Client” session.  One team was particularly challenged by their client and assignment.

I listened as members of the group described their business to business PR assignment with a Waco-based organization.  With a mixture of responsible concern and uncertainty, characteristic of soon-to-be new professionals entering the world of business public relations, I heard two distinct observations from the team:

“The client knows what they want as an end product – a website – but doesn’t know what the actual site will focus on or say.”

“When we went to our first meeting, our client left us with tons of information.”

After providing encouragement about the process, we talked about what the group had taken away from the meeting, literally and figuratively:

  • That the deep supply of background information provided them with both the raw materials and the license to draft some initial straw poll content
  • That the straw poll content likely would serve as a means of moving the process forward, with a likely result of either confirming a direction for the website or additional guidance toward the ultimate direction of the project

As they described their experience, I realized that they hadn’t yet learned one of the core competencies of public relations advisors – using an expertise in forensic communications to shape public relations strategies and tactics.

When facing a communications opportunity or challenge, business leaders generally know what they want to accomplish for their organization or broader industry.  Where they often have uncertainty – and why they engage a public, media and community relations professional or team – is in their need to secure the how.

Fact is, the students were concerned about something that experienced professionals experience regularly.  We often serve as the sketch pad on which leaders create and formalize their organizational persona.

Moving from the conceptual to the concrete in creating, enhancing and sustaining public perception requires a skilled, experienced and trusted advisor who also can function as a positioning and messaging sherpa.

This is a great lesson for these students, and a great reminder for others engaged in shaping the direction of our nation’s institutions, big and small.