Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Some Straightforward Advice At A Critical Time

I've spent a lifetime dealing with the media.
As a public relations practitioner, it was more than my business. It truly was my life. I gave it all that I had -- all the time. In fact, over a period of several decades there was never a moment when the media needed me that I was not available to them and for them.
I came to know and like many reporters, editors, columnists, commentators and so forth. We developed strong relationships built on a need for one another's services and a sense of mutual trust. Some of these professionals became my lifelong friends and these are friendships I still treasure. As a writer myself, I admire good writing. And, even though I never sought to be a journalist, I came to admire (and still admire and respect) journalistic prowess.
Now, the media are under fire.
Some of their number are smarting from it. A significant number are complaining. More than a few are whining. And, of course, they're fighting back in the only way they know how -- with the power of the pen.
It's rough out there. It's raucous. And the decades-long coarsening of the culture hasn't helped.
But one of the most respected and admired members of the media that I know (one of the best in the business) took note of all the criticism and simply said this: "Here's the principle I try to follow -- don't complain, don't explain. Just keep doing the f'n job, do it right, with the facts nailed down tight."
Doesn't that really say it all?
I worked for 14,000 Philadelphia lawyers and the best lawyers that I know accepted attacks on the profession as the price you pay for championing justice, taking up unpopular causes and representing clients who might not always be paragons of virtue.

A very accomplished lawyer once brushed off criticism by telling me: "Half of the people that lawyers represent come away unhappy because the other side wins. It's just the nature of the beast." In other words, you do you best, you fight like hell for your client and them you leave the rest for the judge or the jury or the mediator to decide. That's all you can do.
As a public relations practitioner, I learned early on that I could not satisfy every client, every time. Many times I produced campaigns, tag lines, speeches, talking points, etc. that I thought were great. But the client didn't agree. I had to alter things to fit the client's needs or preferences or peccadilloes. I also learned that I had to give up any pride of authorship. As a PR man I had to have a passion for anonymity. I wasn't the star. I was only (if I was lucky enough and good enough) the star-maker -- the person behind the scenes. So much for my ego. I had to leave that at the door.
I also had people from outside the profession refer to me as a publicist, a barker, a flack, a gofer and even a hack. Journalists who moved over into public relations were dismissed (by other members of the media) as those who "crossed over to the dark side."
These are the prices that you sometimes pay when you enter (or leave) a profession.
When I encountered criticism, I tried my best to look at things objectively and tried to make amends if and where such adjustments were needed.
But most of all, I adhered to one overarching rule: Give it your best every day no matter what. And when I was under the gun or under siege or going through a period of adversity (and I faced them all) I doubled down on all this. I simply applied the rule more intensely and worked harder that ever. "Be accurate, be thorough, hit the target, let your work product shine," I told myself. I passed this on to the young people I mentored: "Let your work speak for itself."
And I would offer this same advice to my friends in the media today. Be fair. Be honest. Don't take on the cloak of righteousness. Be open to constructive criticism. Listen to all sides. Do your job.
But I suspect that on some level the media types that I most admire understand this and don't need a lot of advice.
There is just one other thing that I learned, however. So, I'll pass it along for what it's worth: Oftentimes, you can adjust your sales without selling you soul. Don't be afraid to do it. It will hardly be the end of the world and it might enure to your benefit.

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