The devil’s in the details

Devils towerIt occurred to me after my son and I summited The Devil's Tower in Wyoming this past Saturday that, strange as it seems, there are some striking similarities between climbing and public relations.

As our superb guide, Art Mooney tells us again and again, climbing is a puzzle.

It's an intricate physical, mental and emotional challenge that presents limitless obstacles and choices. Select the proper hand grip and foot hold and, voila, you'll ascend to the next level. Make the wrong move, though, or rely too much on power over precision, and you'll find yourself just as easily hurtling downwards.

PR is the same way. Whether it's a properly crafted pitch letter, a thoroughly researched proposal or a well-rehearsed presentation, the devil is, indeed, in the details.

I've been on the right and wrong side of detail-reading in climbing and business.

With the latter, I can remember missing some MAJOR details, such as:

– Projecting a Google Earth map to illustrate a special events tour to a group of arch-rival Yahoo executives. Happily, they laughed off the excruciatingly painful mistake and handed us their account.
– Projecting a visual in the middle of a new business presentation and being stopped in our tracks by the prospect's CMO, who asked: “You do know that's our competitor's product, correct?” That cost us the business.
– Butchering a prospect's name. Believe it or not, one of our partners mixed up a prospect's first and last names repeatedly during a new business pitch. So, client and agency members alike winced as Neil Norum became “Norm” for a full 90-minute pitch. Call him what you will, but call us deader than a door nail after that virtuoso performance.

On the plus side, I remember rolling out of bed the morning after PR Week had named us agency of the year.

We were staying at our corporate apartment and neither Ed nor I had any interest (much less strength) in rushing to a previously scheduled new business pitch with Donald Marron, the CEO of none other than Paine Webber!

But, being the new business troopers that we were, Ed and I threw on our wrinkled tuxedos from the previous night (neither of us had clean clothes) and showed up unwashed and 45 minutes late.

Marron's personal assistant was aghast at our appearance, but she nonetheless ushered us into his football-sized office. Marron took one look at us, smiled and said, “Rough night, eh boys?” We nodded our heads. “Sit down,” he said. “I need to figure out how to reach dotcom millionaires, and my gut tells me you're the ones to help me.” He hired us on the spot. Go figure.

I guess on that day, the detail was in sucking it up and attending a meeting we had no business whatsoever in winning.

Art Mooney will tell you there are some routes you have no business summiting but, by a combination of skill, chutzpah and taking the time to read the details, you end up on the top regardless. And, I can tell you the same holds true for PR.

Comments are closed.