Are PR Pros Paid to Do or Paid to Think?

The+Thinker+Musee+Rodin+green+resizedThis post from new minted agency owner and fellow PRSA Counselors Academy member Dana Hughens delivers clarity to the question of thinking and doing.

Are PR Pro’s Paid to Do or Paid to Think? (Resolutions of a Multi-Tasker)

Posted on January 11th, 2010 by Dana Hughens

We sit poised at our keyboards on client calls, ready to type in a url before the client can get “dot com” out of her mouth when she references a website of interest. We instant message our account team members across the office to provide real-time updates. We toggle between tabs to see if we’ve increased the fan base on the client’s page on Facebook and what has been tweeted about the organization since we checked an hour ago. Perhaps we send one last text to our best media contact in hopes that we can report a “this just in” pending hit before the client call ends.

Confession: I am a multi-tasker. I’m the first to admit that I’m the person walking in front of you at inconsistent speeds and occasionally causing “blackberry jam” because why on Earth would I simply take a stroll to pick-up lunch when I can walk and respond to emails at the same time?

In our always-on world, you might also feel like you are doing, doing, doing and always trying to do more. If so, read on. Ask yourself what percentage of your client’s budget is being spent on doing and how much on thinking? Feel like you don’t have time to think about that? Then YOU especially, read on!

My first agency job was with a small but well-established Long Island PR firm. The agency’s chairman carefully explained the process of billing by the hour. I still remember the examples he gave me which included listening to a client describe a challenge or task at-hand, meeting with your team members to think through and discuss possible solutions and action items, sitting in your office thinking about the situation, driving to work thinking about a client’s business, etc. Of course there were things like writing and editing, faxing (it was hot technology) a release to reporters and building a media list by studying the Bacons books.

Let’s go back to sitting in your office and driving in your car. Hmm. Really? We used to bill for that? When was the last time you just sat in your office to simply think? Or the last time you spent even a portion of your commute to think through – really think through – something for a client? Some days, my office is the last place I can really think. A computer, desk phone, iPhone and blackberry ring, ding and ping too much for uninterrupted thought. And time in the car? That’s for conference calls, phoning-in action items to team members, making the reservation for the last-minute client dinner, calling to change my flight and cancel my hotel since the last-minute client dinner means I have to shift the travel for the other client meeting to early the next morning. Do, do, do!

Don’t get me wrong, I love my mobile devices and the sense of 24/7 connectivity. Remember, I admitted I have a problem, and if you have received an email from me during the wee hours of the morning or have seen me wearing my wrist brace for what I have termed “Twitteritis” then you know it’s true. In the name of exceptional client service, it’s time to stop the madness.

I’ve spent some time thinking about the doing vs. thinking ratio for my clients. We can’t ignore that the doing is extremely important. Our clients expect us to execute and deliver on the metrics, which I would argue are the results of our strategic thinking.

It’s been more than 15 years since that Long Island PR firm chairman explained billable hours to his new account coordinator. I still enjoy crafting a release and earning the satisfaction of well-planned pitch, as well as managing a team, new business development and all the things that have come with double-digit years of experience. Focusing on thinking more as a strategic counselor does not mean that I have to be any less hands-on or that I just sit in my office doing nothing. However, it does mean that I’m challenging myself to make uninterrupted time to think – simply think – about my clients.

If you feel the same way, consider these tips:
1. Find your thinking place. It might not be your office. Running a few miles (with no phone calls or iTunes) creates my perfect thinking -without-distractions environment. It allows me a few minutes to clear my mind of everything else and focus on the topic at-hand. Perhaps it’s simply muting your computer, phone, etc. for a designated period of time or walking away from your desk and using a conference room or guest space.

2. Encourage your team to do the same. It can be especially challenging for junior team members to understand how much time to allow for a new assignment. As an account executive, I can remember fretting that I was taking too long. As a general rule, I now worry that the opposite is true for my AEs, and understandably so, when they’ve essentially known nothing other than an instant-answer world.

Help them realize that just throwing something on paper without a clear understanding of the project results in more time spent in the long run. Allow them the opportunity to go away and think, then come back and ask more questions before they begin. Consider defining the thinking time and environment for them. “Please go to the conference room for 30 minutes to review what we’ve discussed, outline your next steps and come back with your questions before you begin writing the announcement.”

Especially when it’s something brand new, try explaining what your own personal process would be for figuring out how to tackle it. I like to tell my team members about holding my own hand. It provides a good visual and allows me the opportunity to tell them that I still have assignments that are difficult to know how to start. When that happens, I hold my own hand, take a deep breath and remind myself that like all the daunting projects that have come before this one, I will figure out this one, too. In other words, I allow myself some time to think.

3. Know that it’s okay. In our hurried world, sometimes it feels as though sitting still is not allowed. And for we multi-taskers, that’s a challenge in and of itself. Accept that it’s okay to sit in your office to think. Perhaps as a new year’s resolution, commit to spending more time with your clients (try face-to-face to eliminate distractions) and your team members brainstorming a topic.

Bill your time for thinking? Yes, you should. Your clients will be glad you did.