Public Relations officers (PRO’s) are often up against extreme time pressures, chasing deadlines and journalists, or being chased by clients, the last thing that they want to do is spend their time moving from meeting to meeting – especially if they are long, unstructured and overrun.
Even worse is when PRO’s are so disinterested in a current meeting that they’re unable to stay ‘in the room’ and instead find themselves distracted and thinking about other deadlines – the meeting has no focus.
My working life now spans 15 years and I’ve attended pretty much every kind of meeting possible - from stand up quick fire meetings to long intense meetings; from pitching for new business to being pitched to for new business, from relaxed unformal to structured, formal meetings; internal or client meetings – I’m probably not alone in thinking that there is no kind of meeting that I haven’t enjoyed or endured.
So what have I learnt about meetings? I’ve learnt what I don’t like and I’d like to offer some friendly advice after spending seven years in the PR industry, on avoiding PRO’s top meeting bug bears.
How can you ensure that your next meeting with a PRO runs effectively?
- Start on time
PRO’s are notorious for working 50+ hours a week and they’re keen to use every minute of their working day effectively - this includes meetings. If you’re running a meeting and don’t begin promptly then you’re setting the scene for an unproductive meeting. The message you’re sending to everyone else is that the meeting is not important. As the organiser of a meeting, you have an obligation to the rest of the attendees to start on time and set the tone.
That said, there are also plenty of reasons why someone may not be able to attend the meeting on time – so don’t be too quick to call someone out for being late – PROs are sensitive souls. I’ve also witnessed situations where a person arriving late doesn’t apologise and isn’t even acknowledged - this is even worse as it gives the impression that neither person cares much about the meeting.
I find that the best way to handle a late arrival to a meeting is to let them explain themselves and either give a quick run-down of what they’ve missed or offer to go over it with them afterwards. This way they feel part of the meeting and that their contributions will be valued.
- Do the prep work
PRO’s are busy, we all are! We’re all juggling several deadlines all at once. But if prep work is required, make sure you do it - it demonstrates your commitment to the meeting and that you want make it as efficient as possible. If prep work is not stated, then it is up to you as a participant to clarify whether any prep is needed with the organiser.
In previous roles, I’ve been to meetings and found that some people will have undertaken prep work beforehand and others will just turn up and attempt to wing it. Typically what happens is that those who haven’t prepared end up slowing the meeting down, causing frustration for the people who have taken the time to prepare.
- Make it visual
The last thing you want to do in a meeting with a PRO is present them with intense text heavy documents. They are already bombarded with text in their normal working day with news monitoring, writing and reviewing press releases, feature articles, thought leadership, case studies etc.
My tip for organisers is to keep things visual, even just using handouts as a simple prompt to keep everyone on track. Make sure to keep the imagery light hearted as this facilitates contribution from everyone in the room, whether it’s two or ten people. PRO’s will appreciate this change of pace and the fact that they will be looking at images is likely to get their creative juices flowing.
- Own the actions
One of my old mentors would say before every meeting that she would aim to come out with no actions as she was too busy to take anything else on. She entered some meetings with a good grasp of her own workload so that she could accept actions when she had time or deflect onto other people if time was short.
PRO’s need clients to own the tasks and if you are being presented with objectives and outcomes from a meeting, you need to own actions, accept them and play them back to the group to ensure they’re fully understood. Time is an incredibly precious resource and if you find out that your actions aren’t correct you’re wasting effort.
I have not known anyone who is not guilty of feeling lethargic entering a meeting once in a while, but PRO’s need to be bright and enthusiastic to create excitement around their clients' products and/or services. If you’re feeling down in the doldrums why not take five minutes to shake it off, regain composure and psych yourself up? You want to be passionate when selling in your stories to the media, so use a little of that passion and enter the room with a positive attitude and keep up a great rapport.
If there’s a lot on your plate and you’re feeling stressed out, everyone will appreciate a short meeting that’s to the point, so don’t feel as if you have to drag it out.
Meetings are essential in all aspects of business, make sure you treat them with the respect that they deserve. Don’t treat them like a chore. If you’re not clear on why you’ve been invited to the meeting, then just ask.
Time is precious and for PRO’s it’s billable – so don’t waste it!