Why do PR pros answer questions with a question?

Posted by Sara Hawthorn

Following on from last week’s blog about getting in front of the press, I wanted to tackle another big issue (complaint? frustration?) we come across a lot – why do PR pros and marketers often answer a question with another question?

Imagine you’ve called in a public relations agency you found online or had recommended. You want to know what they can do for you, and ask one of these questions: can you help my business? Can you get us in the press? Where would you start and what will it cost? Instead of saying yes, yes, here and £15k, the people in front of you reply by asking you a question: why? Then follow up with a stream of other questions you probably weren’t prepared for.

It feels like we’re being vague, deliberately obtuse, even. All you want are straight answers and we’re throwing it back at you like a frustrating game of catch. Familiar? This might help explain why we’re so frustrating.


Questions are fundamental to taking a strategic approach to communication

Strategic is a well-used word in the communication lexicon. We’re all familiar with the sub-heading, we’ve seen it on websites, LinkedIn profiles and marketing literature. We’re guilty of using it here, too. Unfortunately it’s used as a generic and succinct description which assumes anyone reading it knows what a strategic approach to public relations actually is.

The word strategy is linked to planning, its synonyms include scenario and game plan. But a game plan has a goal and the only way to find out a goal is to, well, ask. To tell you whether we can help your business we need to know what you want help with. We also need to know if you’re already on the path to achieving that goal or aren’t even off the starting line. We have to ask why before we can tell you how.

Taking a strategic approach often involves breaking something down before building it up, we won’t know where to start if we don’t know where you are.


Information is necessary for creativity

Generally speaking, PR people are extremely curious and inquisitive, and, often, a business will hire a PR agency for a big ideas and creativity. But, sad to say, we do not pluck those big ideas from the air like magic. We need information and lots of it. That means we need to – you guessed it – ask questions. The more you volunteer the broader and deeper our understanding becomes and the better we can help you with that desired creative approach.  


Being a tortoise in a hare’s world

I recently ordered a new rucksack online and it arrived six hours later. I can see what’s happening across the world in real-time thanks to Twitter. Everything is about instant gratification and that’s reflected in the business world. Fast results, quick wins, overnight success and sudden fame and fortune are strong, appealing temptations. Far less desirable is a measured approach, which, though will lead to stronger foundations and lasting impact, takes time that many businesses feel they don’t have.

When we go into a business we are viewed, sometimes, as the fixers, the people who will sweep in, lift the burden and replace it with a neatly wrapped present filled with all the answers and results. In reality what we do is lift the burden, examine it, question you about it, unpick it, deconstruct it and then reshape it from burden to opportunity. This is not a quick turnaround, but it’s a process that offers consistency, stability and results that last longer than a 3am tweet.


View returning questions as a positive thing

Don’t be frustrated when a PR consultant or PR agency team responds with another question, it means they’re digging deeper and trying to understand your business, your needs, your team and you. Viewing this as a demonstration of best practice rather than a blockade makes the agency/client relationship stronger and more fruitful.