When Pope Francis stated that climate change was mostly man-made in June, the response was swift from a lot of quarters. From those supporting the church’s commitment to the environment and tackling inequality, to those who found the statement anathema to their own political position, to those who wondered what this meant to other less-progressive parts of Catholic doctrine, the pontif wasn’t short of attention. Admittedly, when someone is the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide, as well as a focus of attention for other branches of Christianity, other religions, and Governments, people will listen to what they say. Regardless, the fact that the leader of one of the major religions is willing to speak publically and outspokenly on a range of matters gives an important example.
Part of our duty as PRs is to ensure our clients are engaged with their audience. While the vast majority of clients are unlikely to pull in the big crowds at St. Peter’s (except presumably for whichever agency handles the @pontifex twitter account), we still need to ensure that they can appeal to more than a niche, specialised audience. This means being able to speak on subjects outside their specific realm of expertise. Some of these subjects might be obvious. For instance, an anti-virus client should be able to speak about viruses, and the prevention thereof, in depth. But they should also be able to discuss security threats, and the best way to ensure that the entire organisation is secured against all forms of attack. Developments in cyber crime? Government legislation and investment in security? The rise of new threats such as Stuxnet? All things the client should have an opinion on. What, then, about moving further out of the comfort zone? Should the client have an opinion on whether government cuts will mean increased security risk? Whether outsourcing and offshoring puts data in danger? Whether the development of AI and learning computers could mean the spontaneous generation of new viruses? While there is a limit to how far a client should be pushed, the more areas they can comment on the better.
This is why speaking with, and learning about clients is so important. Without the time we’ve spent getting to know our clients and thinking about the types of stories that could relate back to them, we couldn’t have connected the pressures put on IT departments with the growth of austerity: or talked about how energy companies were being turned down for cyber-attack insurance. The initial days and weeks of working with one another are crucial for this. Of course, as a modern, hyper-efficient PR agency with near-superhuman levels of ability, our research into the client and potential issues began long before we began working with one another. Yet taking the time to work on messages, those issues the client is comfortable discussing, and where any lines are drawn will pay dividends down the line. Similarly, the agency should be always learning, making sure that it keeps abreast of all developments in the industry and spotting those stories and issues where the client can demonstrate their credentials.
We’re not expecting all our clients to have the immediate global influence of God’s appointed representative on earth. But by taking clients away from their niche, the results can often be surprising.