Saturday, January 12, 2008

What Automotive Repair can Teach us About Communication

An old friend of mine, Blair Enns, tells the story of how his car was acting up one day. Sure that it was a matter of the tires being out of balance, he went to the local repair shop and paid to have all four wheels re-balanced, only to find that the car STILL had the same "shimmy" to it on the highway. Incensed, he went back and demanded that they "do something" about the problem.

When the mechanics looked at the car, they discovered that a broken tie-rod end was the culprit.

So who should he have been upset with? Fact is, he went to a place of business, and asked them to perform a service that they ordinarily sell. Upon reflection, he blamed himself, and paid for the subsequent repair (and learned a valuable lesson in the process).

I say the fact that he really didn't need the wheel balancing service, and ended up paying far more to fix the problem, is BOTH his fault and the fault of the repair shop.

On a very basic level, he got just what he deserved. He asked to buy something, and they sold it to him. On the other hand, a professional repair shop should have asked him some questions, and looked the car over before just jumping through whatever hoop the customer held up.

We in PR come face-to-face with this type of situation all the time. I can't tell you how often a client has come to me saying, "We need to hold a press conference!" More often than not, after reviewing the "news" that needs to be conveyed, discussing which journalists would most likely want to report on it, and the level of return that could be expected on what can be a pretty pricey investment, the decision is made to convey the news in a different manner.

The moral to the story: Make sure your PR agency (or ad agency, or marketing services firm, or whomever) isn't just "taking orders," but is really, really listening to you, getting to the heart of all of the issues, diagnosing your real need, and acting along with you as your partner in achieving real goals that will deliver tangible success.

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