907.529.2391 | mary@barbergp.com

One Size Does NOT Fit All

Little boy in Dad's t-shirtI’ve been a communications professional for more than 30 years. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that One Size Does Not Fit All. Yes there are things we’ve learned from experience to use in the next project, and the checklist for Client B’s event might be derived from one a few years back. In fact, there might be things we do for almost every project.

But they are also very different.

When I worked at a multi-national agency there was a competitor who almost always submitted boilerplate type responses to RFP requests. We knew what they were submitting based on the budget in the RFP. It made it pretty easy to beat them.

We didn’t decide our tactics until we listened. That made us harder to beat. We had to understand their needs and desires before recommending a solution.

We had to understand at least part of the competitive landscape to know what problem we were solving. That problem helped dictate the solutions.

Today, listening can be done online before even meeting the prospect. I almost always offer a different perspective…because I’m not there every day. I might still pitch an event or a publicity tour, but it’s always based on a strategy and goals. Today it also has a very large engagement component.

And, that’s where we can also be misunderstood.

How many times do you get a call saying…I need a brochure, press conference, event, etc. When you really start to listen and talk you realize what they really need is to change a behavior or belief among a specific audience. And there are a variety of ways to reach the end result. There are many tools in the tool box today that we didn’t have when I became a public relations professional more than 30 years ago.

Today there are so many tools out there to use it can be mind boggling. And that’s where our communities comes in – our online communities – of individual people around the world we’ve come to rely on. To help us make decisions. To aid in solving problems. To inform us of new tools and offer guidance.

And, that’s how we find ourselves making sweeping generalities.

With the ever growing use of the web, smart phones and social media tools, it’s very difficult to keep up and our reliance on our networks becomes even more important. Sharing tools and offering advice is critical. With that comes a responsibility. Sweeping statements about brand new products don’t help your credibility. Saying a product is DOA probably isn’t such a great idea. And these statements are even worse when it’s apparent you haven’t tried the product.

But it does demonstrate the need to always be watching and re-evaluating what’s important. Who is in your network and influencing you will likely change how you feel over time. And that’s okay.

With influence comes responsibility. To listen carefully to hear different points of view. To try new products and understand how different groups might use them. To see the world through the rose colored glasses of others.

That’s why quality is even more critical.

When “we” speak in social media circles, the ripple effect is enormous. It sometimes reaches well beyond our usual community. That’s why the tone and the word choice is so critical and the quality of the message so key.

From my standpoint, one size doesn’t fit all…

but the T-shirt better be made of the finest cotton…

at least in my book.

By |2018-03-18T22:55:44+00:00June 29th, 2011|Strategic Communications Planning/Counsel|9 Comments

About the Author:

Mary Deming Barber, APR, Fellow PRSA, runs a strategic communications consultancy where she helps clients understand how to integrate new media into traditional communication programs. Mary has counseled clients in Tacoma, Anchorage, San Francisco, Oregon, and Colorado for nearly 40 years working with a variety of food organizations, several agencies, and as a key team member on two successful US Senate campaigns. 


  1. Shonali Burke June 29, 2011 at 4:44 pm - Reply

    Amen, Mary! I wonder if the fact that there is so much information to absorb, so much going on, that leads us to make generalizations. Because, as you say, there’s no one size fits all. But no matter how much things change, the more they stay the same; to listen, learn, research and experiment before we can make sound recommendations to our clients. Listening is critical, now more than ever.

    • mary June 29, 2011 at 5:12 pm - Reply

      So true. I Almost feel like lather, rinse, repeat has been replaced by a new refrain of listen, learn, experiment, revise.

  2. Karen Swim June 29, 2011 at 5:10 pm - Reply

    Mary, what a great post and a cautionary tale as well. Social media has a way of escalating the passion of our opinions. We take a stand against something and a tribe rises up to amplify our thoughts. Yet, as you noted even something as reviled as the auto DM works for some brands. You have made me realize how important it is to carefully share my thoughts and experiences and paint them as my own without broad brush stokes. Thank you for the thoughtful insight.

    • mary June 29, 2011 at 5:14 pm - Reply

      Good point Karen about the amplification of our voices on social media. It used to be a conversation between two of us just didn’t go that far. Today, others join in and our private” opinions are sent to the world before we know it.

  3. Kellye Crane June 29, 2011 at 6:19 pm - Reply

    While obviously you’re right that every situation is different, if one finds a tool or method particularly objectionable, I see no problem calling it out as such. And obviously, if you have an ethical issue with a tool/method, you wouldn’t try the product first — you would take a careful approach and research it, but not actually use it.

    Honest discourse about approaches and tools in social media is a big part of what this space was built on. It would have been easier for me not to have written my most recent post, but after careful consideration it reached a tipping point for me. Rather than participate in backchannel sniping (which happens — believe me!), isn’t it more productive to have the discussion out in the open?

    • mary June 29, 2011 at 9:18 pm - Reply

      Thanks for stopping Kellye. My post isn’t (just) about Triberr. That’s why I didn’t call it out. Like you, I reached a tipping point today on many levels. The Triberr discussion was one of several today.

      That’s why the first part of my post is about listening. We need to listen to our clients/organizations before we can make communications recommendations. That’s what they are paying us for…our smart listening and our ability to make sound recommendations of what they should do. Not just one from column A, B or C.

      The misunderstood part is next and that’s really an “overwhelmed by it all” part as well. There are so many new tools it’s hard to evaluate them. I started in this profession when we didn’t have computers…let alone phones without cords and fax machines. Old school I know but it’s to demonstrate how much learning/sharing listening I’ve had to do. Today things move even faster and that makes it even more important to try to stay on top of things.

      Myself, I rely on my community to help with that. That’s people like you, Jen, Shonali, Kami Gini, and the list goes on –to whom I always listen. Then there are the folks who listen to me. And, that’s where the tone and responsibility come in to play. If we know we’re an influencer we have an obligation to continue listening, learning, evaluating and engaging so we can continue sharing.

      But we also have an obligation to be wary of the words we use and the tone we use. That’s where the discussion gets easily thrown off course. When sweeping generalities are made and then not backed up. Phrases such as my experience is, or it’s my understanding that seem much more appropriate in today’s world of online ongoing assessment and evaluation. I’m hoping we can get there and the post is my attempt at trying.

  4. Kellye Crane June 30, 2011 at 7:10 am - Reply

    Ah, I believe you’re getting to the point of civility, which is very important indeed. Everyone deserves respect, especially those who have earned it through decades of experience. I think part of respect is giving careful consideration to others’ viewpoints, whether or not we agree.

    By the way, do you remember when we used to actually *mail* press kits to reporters? Crazy!

    • mary June 30, 2011 at 8:02 am - Reply

      Yes I do. Or, when they were really important and local, we hand delivered them. It was a big deal when we faxed them. The assistant AEs had to sort through all the overnight faxes first thing in the morning and distribute them to the account teams. There were stacks of rolled up paper that had become separated from their other pages so it was quite a chore.

  5. Angela Gonzalez July 12, 2011 at 5:09 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the post Mary. You touch on a few good points. I’m working on RFPs for website redesign, and your points are important. I can really tell what companies that have boiler plate RFPs. I also see why it is important for companies to take a step back and analyze their strategies.

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.