Fishing with Peter Drucker – Lessons Learned in Public Relations

Fishing.  One may call it a sport.  Another may call it a hobby.  Regardless of how it may be classifed, fishing is an activity that requires great patience, dedication, and knowledge of  the creatures one is in pursuit of and the environment which they inhabit.

Perhaps a deceased master of management practices does not serve as the ideal fishing companion, but this past weekend, the late Peter Drucker tagged along in spirit on my initial fishing endeavor of the 2010 season.  The first official weekend of spring presented a prime opportunity to gather my fishing rod and head down to the lake in hopes of snagging the big one.

After baiting my hook and casting my line, I sat on the dock of Carnegie Lake and perused through the 392 pages of Drucker’s 1954 TriplePoint cult classic, The Practice of Management.  Having spent a larger portion of the past few weeks reading and digesting the book (I am not alone), I searched for anything particularly motivating as I waited for signs of life to surface from the vast body of water that lay in front of me.

Using the analogy of a ship navigating its way through stormy waters and ultimately reaching its destination – despite hurdles such as extreme weather or war – Drucker notes:

…“to reach objectives, detours may have to be made around obstacles” (p.61).

While the ship may face challenges that steer it off course, with the aid of a compass bearing, “four fifths of all voyages end in the intended port at the originally scheduled time.”  That compass bearing alone cannot aid the ship, for it always points in a single direction.  Combining the knowledge from a compass bearing with the ability to improvise when variables are thrown in the ship’s way is essential for that ship to reach its final destination.

There was little chance I would catch any fish on that particular day.  In fact, I have yet to catch anything.  The particular lake I go to is not well-populated, and I’ve only gone fishing a handful of times. Channeling my own inner-Drucker (WWDD – What Would Drucker Do?), I drew in my line, packed up my gear and headed towards the local fish market.  In a couple of hours, I enjoyed a well-cooked trout that I imagine would meet the satisfaction of my scholarly companion.  Time management.

Yes, I did not catch a fish that day.  But I did eat a fish that day, and through the careful study of Carnegie Lake, some improved techniques, and better bait, I do expect to soon skip the local fish market.

The process of communicating with the media can sometimes resemble my own fishing endeavors, as also falls in line with Drucker’s analogy of the ship in troubled waters. I cast my line with an initial message sent to a journalist, hope to have the right bait, and wait for a bite on a potential story.  Similarly, the communication sent out to a journalist can be compared to the vessel that has a port to reach, but sometimes lacks a clear and direct path before being able to dock.  In this case, I have not gone hungry and have had success.  My ships have reached port.   But there are in fact times when my line (an e-mail, phone call or even tweet) is left hanging, my ship is lost at sea.

The clearest way to overcome such  an obstacle is not to run to the nearest fish market, but to adjust tactics and methods in outreach.  This involves a high degree of studying the media.  In addition to reading features, observing Twitter feeds, personal blogs, and related material,  learning how to deliver the most effective and clear  message to receive the attention of certain large fish (high-profile journalists) enables a public relations professional to overcome challenges presented in today’s media environment.  This environment is often polluted with obstacles such as spammers, trolls,  and overall bad public relations requests from competing agencies, all of which must be conquered with effective messaging.

In order to capture the attention of the big fish out there, one cannot simply cast their line, or rely strictly on a compass bearing.  Doing the proper research, which involves reading up on and knowing the habits/interests of journalists, and supplementing this knowledge with patience and diligence, can help secure top coverage for your client.  Sending out an e-mail alone is the wrong approach.  At TriplePoint, we make extensive efforts to arm ourselves with information to maximize the amount of bites we receive.  We establish relationships with journalists to know how to reach them and when, and are appreciative of their time.  This is not an easy process, and often adjustments must be made to generate conversation.  Sometimes an unconventional tactic, including using an alternative communication method such as Twitter to reach out to a specific journalist with a flooded inbox, is necessary in the hunt for establishing dialogue.  Just as with fishing, knowing the proper way to interact with the inhabitants and variables of a certain environment ultimately leads to success.

I expect a few more fishing trips with Peter Drucker.  Soon enough, I’ll be serving up dinner from a catch.