A few weeks ago, I spent the weekend working the Printers Row Lit Fest, the Midwest’s largest literary festival, and in addition to frantically covering the programs for social media and coordinating media interviews, I had the chance to meet many of the exhibitors, speakers, and volunteers.
At one party, I had a drink with the founder of a local books publication who has covered our clients and even featured my own book last year. He shared with me his challenges for monetizing the publication and getting it to a point where he could pay his writers, and I offered a number of ideas for ways he could increase his profit. We talked at length, and in the middle of the conversation he asked, “Why are you being so nice to me?” The question caught me off guard. Did I have to have a reason to be nice? Did there always have to be an agenda?
The following day at one of the programs, I met a fellow publicist who had been working with a few of the authors at the festival and with whom I had corresponded via email a few times. She introduced herself and began asking questions about our outreach, what our company did, and who are clients were. After nearly every question, she kept assuring me, “I’m not trying to poach your business” or “I’m not going to steal your contacts,” and reiterating that she was just trying to learn more about what we did. Again, I was caught off guard. Is that really what most PR people think when other PR people ask them about their business? That colleagues in the industry are trying to get ahead at their expense?
I’ve thought about this for some time now, this assumption that everyone has an agenda. It could very well be true; there are many people who are just out for themselves. But there are many more who don’t operate that way, and this collaborative—rather than competitive—spirit improves many aspects of all of our professional lives.
Helping a publication who reviews our clients’ books to stay in business does directly help us. But it also helps the bigger ecosystem in which we work. If they continue to publish, attract good reviewers they can pay, and grow their audience, more readers will learn about great books. And if more readers hear about great books, and buy them as a result, the bookstores, publishers, and authors all benefit.
Collaborating with a fellow PR person, and providing insight into what has worked for us when it comes to media outreach, will help her improve her pitches and lead to more media coverage. This doesn’t mean less media coverage for us; in fact, it could actually mean more. Most journalists and producers are bombarded with off-topic, poorly written mass pitches, leaving them with a bad taste in their mouths when it comes to publicists. But if they start receiving better pitches that are tailored to their needs and seeing publicists as their collaborators rather uninformed opportunists, they’ll be more excited to open our emails, too—which will improve the chances that they’ll feature our clients. Someone else’s achievement does not result in your failure. There is room enough for all of us, and the success of one often means the success of many. Providing a stellar reference for a co-worker that results in a promotion can lead to your own promotion or additional career opportunities down the road. Collaborating with fellow business owners and sharing resources and best practices will make everyone savvier, which will increase everyone’s profitability. High tides raise all boats.
If we all assist others for the sake of helping everyone rather than only helping ourselves, then maybe at next year’s festival, I won’t be asked why I’m being nice or reassured that my business won’t be affected. By setting a positive example, I’m hoping that next year, collaboration will be the norm.