Experience vs. expertise

Having just gone through a brand and website refresh, we’ve had some in-depth discussions about who AHA Creative Strategies is, what kind of clients we would like to work with and what organizations we think will want to work with us. It’s been an interesting process.

…I should warn you, this is a bit of a long post!

I came across an interesting article yesterday on Media Post entitled: The Safe Hire. In this piece, writer David Bernstein focuses more on advertising, but he puts forward some thought provoking ideas. His first point: “It’s a basic rule of business, only hire someone who’s done the job before.” He then says that in the ad world, clients almost always hire someone with category experience and then much of the work ends up looking alike.

This is an area we have been discussing here at AHA in relationship to PR, communications and social media. We are often asked during new business meetings if we have worked in the potential client’s industry – and there are times when we haven’t. For some potential clients, that can be perceived as a negative and yet for others it’s a breath of fresh air.

We recently started working with a client that focuses on a very specialized area that we had not worked in prior to our relationship. We took it upon ourselves to ramp up quickly, and what we are hearing back is that they are thrilled that they choose us and that our fresh eyes approach is added value. This client works in a complex field and has multiple stakeholders that they would like to develop an ongoing conversation with. Not all of their stakeholders are immersed in this area though. By asking questions about what they do, when, why and how, by requesting clarification on some things that they have done the same way for years without reviewing, we are helping to clarify who their audience/community is, what their message is and why they believe it’s important, and how to reach out. The skill sets we bring to this client is as communicators, not as industry experts. It’s an interesting difference.

In Bernstein’s post, he also uses the example of Ben Sliney. Mr. Sliney was hired as the National Operations Manager for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and started his new position on Sept 11, 2001. He was new to this role and within minutes of starting his job, he began hearing reports about the hijackings. He had to do something. Nothing could have prepared anyone to make this kind of decision, so he did what he thought was right and he did it quickly. He ordered every single plane in the air to land immediately. He closed the skies. This was unprecedented in American aviation history.

Bernstein writes: As Sliney said in the press, “It was good that I was there and not someone more in tune with the bureaucracy.” Sliney was new to the job and the corporate culture of the FAA. He didn’t know the rules, so he went with his instincts. Grounding those planes may have saved thousands of lives, all because the FAA hired someone who hadn’t done the job before.

It’s an interesting point and, while our role certainly doesn’t involve the kind of action that Mr. Sliney took, I think it does translate to PR and how we contribute to a client’s organization. Sometimes it’s better to have someone who doesn’t know your industry or organization that well. A fresh approach can be of value.

There are areas in which we have specific experience. For the fields that we haven’t worked in previously and that demand specialist knowledge, we have often been brought onboard in conjunction with an industry specialist. We have several clients that work in areas that need someone who is immersed in the culture, the industry, and that knows all the players and the history. The collaboration creates strong results because we bring a different perspective.

During our brand refresh exercises, we realized that we can’t be everything to everyone (and don’t want to be). We identified who we are at AHA, as individual professionals and as a team. We clarified how we want to be seen and the types of organizations we want to work with. It’s an important moment for us and for our clients. The organizations that we work with are ready for something a little bit different, they are open to the new paradigm of doing business, and they understand that communication has evolved and that social media is a part of it. They see the value in what we offer.

When it’s a good fit, that’s when the magic happens.

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