The currency of names

by ninameetscafe

Entering a specific industry feels like moving to a new country, learning a new language and meeting a new kind of people. Based on what the industry values, too, I’d even say it has unique currency.

That movie “The Devil Wears Prada” keeps coming to mind. In a scene early in the movie, Old Assistant Emily shows up New Assistant Andrea by knowing some major clients by their casual first names. Then, in a later scene of obvious plot development, New Assistant Andrea surpasses Old Assistant Emily by memorizing certain key people’s full names. I draw major parallels between those scenes and the PR world around me because here, knowing who is who and what they cover is important.

It is like PR’s wallet is an (email) address book; its currency the names inside. Before I had any inkling of this, I was receiving frighteningly (literally frightening) passive-aggressive emails from several executive assistants wondering how a certain SVP (Senior Vice President) was not put on the RSVP list (that I was managing, obviously, hence the blunder) for a press event. I was also getting flack, incidentally at the same event, for not responding appropriately to the executive assistant of another high-level company person. Oh, and another time, while checking guests in, I could have sworn I got a slightly astonished look from someone whose name I did not automatically recognize – the name of the wife of our division’s main SVP. Only then did I remember that one of my managers had advised me to take note of that particular name, so that she didn’t get any hassle from anyone at check-in. Blargh! (Tee hee.)

The intense value of names in this industry is evident in the intentional connections specific PR reps make with specific news reporters, and vice versa. For example, not all reporters’ inboxes received an invite to our latest press event, meaning they didn’t get advance information about our holiday announcements (or get an amazing free lunch). In the same breath, it is imperative that we know exactly which reporters are the best partners to pitch potential stories we have. I’ve overheard several of my managers talking exasperatedly over the phone at someone (who I imagine was cringing inside) who did not know that High Executive Someone was Another High Executive Someone’s wife, and thus should have been marked or treated accordingly on The List. Things move fast in the mobile tech world, and perhaps even faster in the mobile tech news world, so hitting the wrong target could mean watching our story wilt sad and unnoticed.

The best PR agencies seem like the ones with years of social circles around them, but also the ones keeping immaculate tabs on which reporters are in or out of the buzz, or command the loyalty of the most readers. PR stays relevant through the nature of its contacts. I’m sure all fields, such as legal, finance, human relations and IT all operate around their respective central themes, but it looks like the one I’m running into runs on names.