A PR Pro’s Secret Weapon: Asking Smart Questions

, Posted on Jul 27

Choosing to attend a university two hours from where I grew up and studying abroad for a semester in Chile taught me the importance of independence. Once I stepped into the world of a PR professional, I got a true taste of self-sufficiency and how trial-and-error can be more educational than the “inquire before attempt” method.

Taking a step back, I’ve also learned that asking questions prior to and during whatever it is you’re tasked to accomplish at work is also of great value. Many failures can be avoided if we learn to ask the right questions. On the flip side, while the thought of failure intimidates many people (including me!), we learn from our failures. I saved one of Chris Brogan’s newsletters (send me an e-mail/tweet if you want me to forward it to you) to reference this suggestion when the fear of failure creeps up on me – Start Early, Fail Fast, Start Again.

So am I saying purposely fail for the sake of learning? Nope. I’m saying learn the art of asking smart questions. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Asking appropriate questions is definitely a skill I continue to refine. Think of this skill as your secret weapon. This may seem obvious, but you have to train yourself to get in the mindset of inquiring when necessary versus simply complying on auto-pilot. Or worse, shooting at a target in the dark (read: blindly guessing because you don’t have the slightest idea what you’re doing). It’s one thing to be independent, and it’s another to not to ask because you’re afraid you’ll get that raised eyebrow look.

Here are a couple times I think it’s important for PR pros to ask questions:

  • Your manager tasks you with completing a time-sensitive client project, but you’re confused from the get-go. If time were of the essence, I would do some digging before immediately asking questions. But, in this case, ask first. The last thing you want to do is turn something over to your manager the day it’s due to the client only to find out it’s completely the opposite of what he/she wanted. Same thing applies if you’re meeting with a client and you’re not clear on something said during the discussion.
  • You have a story idea that you think multiple reporters at a publication might find interesting, but you aren’t sure who’s the most appropriate contact. Pick the one who makes most sense to you, and call or e-mail. Yes, I know reporters are busy. But I’ve had many reporters say they appreciate when PR pros ask first before sending news that’s not relevant. Some reporters will even point you in the right direction if they aren’t the appropriate contact.
  • Same principle above applies for bloggers. Some bloggers don’t spell out their review/giveaway policies and whether or not they’re PR friendly. Ask before assuming and dismissing.
  • Your client is adamant that you help his/her company get involved with social media, but you’ve yet to receive a reason why. Ask. Find out how using social networks ties into the company’s overall goals. Ask if any research has been done to determine if the client’s customers are online. Put on your counselor hat and help your client determine if social media makes sense. Developing a social media strategy and road map for integration is crucial.

What are some other examples of times when PR pros need to know the right questions to ask? Do you think asking smart questions is a powerful skill?

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