Tip Sheet: Are You A Carpenter Or An Architect? Revising Your Thinking To Build Your Business


My grandfather was a "finish" carpenter, and a good one. It was his job to show up after the basic construction was complete and do the fancy wood trim and cabinetry on everything from homes to businesses...even some elegant churches. His mastery of tools and the fine tolerances he could achieve were the envy of his peers and guaranteed him ongoing work throughout most of his life. In his later years, he began making one-of-a-kind items, baby cribs, bassinets, intricate cabinets and furniture. When I asked him why, he said, "I got tired of carrying out second rate plans for other people. I wanted to use my tools to create the beautiful things that I see in my mind." Too often in the public relations profession, we see ourselves as finish carpenters rather than architects. We reach a comfort zone with our tools and our thought processes and rather than stretch, learn and change, we become hammers. The problem with hammers is that when you are one, it's difficult to see problems as anything but a nail. The question then, of whether others view us as tacticians or strategists, is based in our own view of our tools and capabilities. I remember one particular experience with a potential client that pretty much tore down the gauze through which I'd been viewing my universe. I had always, pretty much "gone for the jugular" in client pitches outlining capabilities, tools and successes in such a manner as to leave them, I thought, little choice but to acknowledge our superiority by hiring us immediately. I basically talked them to death. Having arrived at this particular pitch as the third horse of three in the parade, and having a sore throat, I was pretty much quiet, though attentive, through the interview with the exception of asking a series of questions that were designed to keep the client talking as much as possible. After more than an hour, the potential client stopped talking, looked at me and asked, "Are you sure you're in public relations?" "Yes, I answered. "Why do you ask?" "Because all you've done is listen. You haven't mentioned a brochure, a new logo or news releases or even a new website as I've explained our problems." Then it struck me. By actually listening to the client's problems and thinking through what they wanted, and, more important, what they needed, it was obvious that the solution wasn't a communication problem; it was a misaligned sales force and a lack of focus. As I discussed this with the CEO and others in the room, a light came on in their eyes and within an hour of leaving the room we had the account. We weren't hired to create new materials or send out news releases...or even create a new on-line newsletter or revamp their website. We were hired to help the management team re-think and strategize their distribution and sales efforts. Were we eventually asked to design and create collateral materials and communication tools, but we were hired as strategists, not as message deliverers. I've never forgotten that lesson and I've never forgotten the importance of listening. Too often when we counsel others or try to sell ourselves and our services, we forget to take a breath and let someone else talk. There is truth to the axiom "When you are talking, you are not learning." It's Not What You Do, But What You Think There's nothing wrong with being a carpenter - the world needs them. But if you want to move from tactical to strategic, from carpenter to architect in the minds of your superiors or clients you must: Move out of your comfort zone; Take a hard look at your skills, knowledge and abilities; Force yourself to "go back to school" on a regular basis, and not in the traditional sense; Read broadly and extensively, add to your knowledge, and to your "tool kit", not in communication, but in the language and strategy of business, of technology and of change management; Find out what is keeping your company or client's CEO up at night; Become a bridge builder and a solution provider to those concerns and challenges. It's not about being able to use communication tools; it's about seeing the vision, knowing why tools should be used, how they can be best used and when it's best NOT to use them. Some things to ponder: Do you truly understand business strategy and how it impacts an organization? Is your understanding of strategy aligned with that of your organization or client? Do you and your people have the right knowledge base? Are you still couching your recommendations in "communication" rather than business ROI language? Are you asking the right questions? And if not, why not? Do you have the right leaders in your firm or department? Do you have the right mix of talents? Do you believe that you have the ability to provide the "right" answers? If you can answer these questions in the affirmative, you probably are already sitting at the "strategy" table, and directing the "tactical delivery" table. CONTACT: Mike Herman is vice chairman of the Catevo Group| LCI Group Ltd. He can be reached at mherman@catevo.com.

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