Managing up to not get shot down


PHOTO CREDIT: cover of “Managing Up” By Michael S Dobson, Deborah Singer Dobson

In the marcomm and PR industries, hierarchy and other corporate cultures have been ingrained and cemented long ago. Titles, tenure, responsibilities, office size, and floor numbers all seem to impact the way people collaborate within an organization… whether right or wrong.

Where do clients fit in inside this structure?

If we take the age old phrase the customer is always right, then clients have the clout and leverage ($$$) to drive the discussion, whether they are right and strategic, or wrong and unreasonable.

What made me think about this was my read of the great guest post by Chevis English on twitter/PR buddy Lauren Fernandez’s awesome blog about communication styles of under 30 professionals, when to be aggressive or assertive and the perceptions associated with each approach.

My thinking and response was that one needs to figure out who is the target audience first – the boss or the client – which will bring about the right starting point to your communication face versus trying to find a cookie cutter broad brush approach. Even though different faces and styles are needed for each niche, where does managing up come into play, and should it be done with clients?

More often than not ‘managing up’ is referred to as the process of consciously working with your boss to obtain the best possible results for your organization. I however, prefer a much broader take on the topic: the act of understanding and cooperation in a relationship between individuals who often have different perspectives.

I think that the broader definition opens doors for the lower totem-pole folks to be empowered enough to justify and fight for their counsel as part of the greater whole (if there is a boss blessing of course) versus adding it to the pile of other ideas, client internal or external. As I mentioned in my comment to Chevis, being aggressive may never work properly inside or outside the corporate level environment, assertiveness however, with both clients and bosses can yield better results from the starting point.

Being that most people associate ‘managing up’ with a somewhat aggressive (daring even) communication style, straddling the line between aggressive and assertive communication is crucial to do this just right. This is advice I took personally and internalized when moving to a top/large PR agency from the small agency environment I was in prior, and think it still resonates today. Keeping in mind that everyone has ideas and everyone has contacts, cutting through the clutter is paramount and managing up is likely a silver bullet… again, if done right.

To sum up, know your role 30 and under professionals, and that role is… reformer. The system that’s been there before us does not have to be there after we leave, nor while we are there. Mentorship comes from both directions, and getting your clients and bosses to grasp that is the first step in not getting shot down.



10 Responses

  1. Ok, here it goes . . . Let me know if I butcher or sound remotely coherent.

    At the end of the day, our clients pay our paycheck, thus the mentality that “the customer is always right.”

    But I ultimately believe that a truly constructive and productive PR campaign, and relationship between agency and client, will only exist when we act as counselors to the client. Saying “yes” to every bit of news a client wants to pump out is not always the best option. We must educate clients on what is and is not newsworthy so that they can maintain quality brand image and consistent interest from the public and media.

    Here is where you have to find your “communication style,” especially as a young PR pro like myself (and for me it has really depended on the person/business/client – you must have flexibility when communicating). You can never talk down, belittle or outright assault your clients. My practice has been to say (when needed) “this is why we probably shouldn’t do this, but here is another option we can move forward with.” Always give a negative bit of news your client with a positive solution; not just a dead on arrival “NO.”

    Great thoughts, Alex! Thanks for the post.

    • Awesome points, and i couldn’t agree more… Being Yes-men and women will only get us paid until the blame of something not working ultimately winds up in our laps. Strategic counsel, communicated appropriately, is something that always sets apart great campaigns, agencies, and PR pros.

      Managing up, as i see it, is a solution to this fear young PR pros often have, especially when dealing with clients and the outside agency world. The key is confidence in the counsel, next step is proper execution… the only down side of managing up with clients is if a plan/campaign falls through, this failure should and will be traced back to it’s origin… us.

      Thanks for the brain leak! =)

  2. Excellent- except right now for me, this first step is getting the job, lol, and that’s a whole different level of not getting shot down. Great stuff, Alex.

  3. As always — a great and well thought out post Alex.

    For me campaigns with truly great results always seem to come about when the client, head of our shop (or department in a larger organization) and the 1-2 legwork people actually get together, brainstorm on a level playing field and have a true meeting of the minds as to what the goal of this particular campaign is, how it fits into the client’s overall strategy and how to get there (including backup plans).

    Lose any piece of that — the business acumen (and hidden conflicts/agenda items) of the client, the experience of the boss, and the fresh voice of the foot soldier out there doing the day to day pitching and a key piece of the puzzle (not to mention enthusiasm) goes missing.

    • I couldn’t agree more… nothing is more team building than… well, acting as a team. And besides, managing up to client is always better and more effective, as a team versus individually… as i said, the sign in from the boss is still paramount.

      Thanks for your thoughts oh mighty Cog!

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