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Public Relations Thought Leader

Visiting PR clients in person should be an easy task, but sometimes it takes that old Southern charm

Common sense would tell you that clients who hire you as their PR consultant would want to meet with you face-to-face on a regular basis, but we’ve learned that isn’t always the case. Sometimes you just have to knock on their doors – several times – and take food.

I’ve found the magic mostly happens when you are meeting with clients in person and we have many clients who enjoy meeting regularly. It’s after those unscripted moments when we agreed to discuss one topic, but migrate to another, more interesting one that we sometimes walk away with more creative assignments than when we entered.

We have even been hired for projects by some clients whom we’ve never met, as they were located in other cities or countries. For them, occasional phone calls, emails or even a video conference supplanted the need to meet in person.

And then we have had clients who were just to busy to meet.

One hired us to launch several campaigns and paid us for months before they were able to meet with us. We were handcuffed, not able get started until they provided us needed information, in person. My team huddled weekly, devising creative ways to break through our client’s schedule.

Suddenly I remembered back to the 1990s, when I used to publish a printed neighborhood newspaper and PR firms would, unannounced, appear at our downtown Atlanta office door with press releases, product samples and, more often than not, tasty food. Reporters and editors love to eat, but they don’t like to feel they are being “bought” with food. But this being the South and we being gracious, the editorial team would quietly meet with the visitors, impatiently paging through their documents while the advertising and production staffs devoured whatever goodies they brought.

“Food,” I told my PR team in the huddle. “We must take them food.”

So we got up early the next morning and went by our neighborhood Einstein’s Bagels and ordered a dozen hot bagels, cream cheese and coffee and charmed our way into the office of the marketing contact who had proven especially elusive.

For other clients who were equally reluctant to meet but were located in suburban office parks, we offered an upgraded version of that same strategy. These two clients were always too busy to meet, continually refusing our requests to go out for coffee or lunch or to join us at a weekend Falcons football or Braves baseball game.

PRedsLogoSo on two separate occasions, we called our buddy Chip Garner, who cooks up what we think is the city’s best barbecue and brunswick stew over at Pappy Red’s on the Westside of Atlanta and ordered lunch and blackberry cobbler with tea and lemonade for several dozen employees who we knew were working away inside my clients’ offices. We gave the clients one day’s warning and showed up early, filling their buildings with irresistible aromas. One by one, the employees wandered in and grabbed lunch. Finally, the handful of executives whom we had specifically targeted drifted in and sat down with us for nearly 45 minutes, talking about how we could get things back on track.

Nevertheless, at one of the clients, the president never did actually sit down with us or eat our lunch, though he did stand nearby and chatted amiably with us until he was called away for a phone call. As the rest of us enjoyed our blackberry cobbler, I told the marketing executive I’d prepare a plate for the president and take it to his office so he wouldn’t miss out on the good Q and Stew, but she warned me not to bother.

“He doesn’t eat,” she said. “He just works.”

And on that day, at least, he also met – with us.

– Chris Schroder


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