The One Question You Should Ask Everyone You Meet

At the risk of dating myself, who else remembers “The Sunscreen Song?” The track was put to wax by Baz Lurhmann during ThinkstockPhotos-480354942

the summer of 1999 and features lyrics taken from a hypothetical commencement speech penned by Chicago Tribune Columnist Mary Schmich. The tune features some great pieces of advice. Specifically, though, it features the following advice about advice:

Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”

I love that line. Dispensing advice is a way of fishing from the past, taking the best parts and reusing it. While this line and the majority of the song was written with the personal aspects of life in mind, I’ve found it applies to the professional aspects of life as well, especially when you work in PR.

I mean, it makes sense, right? PR is a soft science. Sure, the numbers are hard, but the data often leads to different interpretations and you can’t learn much about what we do from a textbook. The best way to learn is to take on advice from those you respect and those in places you aspire to reach. Whenever possible, I ask the business owners, marketers, and entrepreneurs I meet to share with me the best advice they have ever received. You’d be surprised how much insight such a simple question can yield.

I recently kicked the question around to my B&O colleagues, as it relates to PR, and got some interesting responses. Hopefully, some of these can help you on your own journey.

  • “Lead by example. Worry about the details. Never rest on your laurels.” – Simon Jones
  • “Never make promises you can’t keep – especially to a reporter!” – Natalie Pridham
  • “Always put yourself in the shoes of the person of who will ultimately receive what you’re working on. It helps distinguish between what’s valuable and what’s unnecessary.”– Vanessa Krooss
  • “Don’t use ‘I’ in email. We’re a team!” – Sophie Sieck
  • “Leave your work at the office and go live your life. The work will always be waiting for you when you return.” – Drew Smith
  • “When messaging: don't position just on speeds and feeds. Clients - above all else - worry about resolution of their business problem. Start there, and then explain how your offering helps their needs.” – Tris Clark
  • “When pitching by email, get straight to the point and state your news as fast as possible.” – Julia van Broek
  • “Take credit for the work you do! It’s totally fine to give yourself a pat on the back for doing a great job when the opportunity presents itself. Besides … if you or your team doesn’t take credit for doing a good job, your client may swoop in and take it from under you.” – Chris Navalta
  • “Try not to take things too personally. It’s easier said than done when you’re passionate about your job. But know things will ALWAYS GO WRONG in our industry. Rather than let it deflate and derail you, try and focus on what you can learn and take away from the experience so you are better armed to deal with the situation next time.” – Kris Reeves

And the best advice I’ve ever received? Remember cool songs written during the years before you were of legal age to vote. They might help you write a blog post one day!

Nicholas G. Porter