“I have always said that everyone is in sales. Maybe you don’t hold the title of salesperson, but if the business you are in requires you to deal with people, you, my friend, are in sales,” said salesman extraordinaire Zig Ziglar. If this is true, there isn’t a career field more involved in sales than public relations. Like those who work in retail, PR professionals are in the business of people. My three years’ tenure as a suit salesman for Men’s Wearhouse has taught me invaluable PR principles and skills that all relate to building positive relationships with people.
Deliver on your promises
My career at the Men’s Wearhouse began with renting tuxedos. One quiet afternoon at work, the phone rang. After the habitual, “Thank you for calling the Men’s Wearhouse, fine clothing and tuxedo rentals. This is Calvin, how may I help you?” I was answered with the furious voice of a groom. We had made a grievous mistake: after adjusting the sleeves on the father of the bride’s tuxedo coat, we forgot to replace the coat with the rest of his tuxedo. The day before, someone had come to pick up all of the tuxedos without any knowledge of the coat situation. Now it was the day of the wedding.
In fact, the father of the bride would have to walk his daughter down the aisle in less than an hour. He discovered the mistake while he was changing into his tuxedo at the venue. If the stress of a wedding day isn’t enough, something like a missing coat can turn a civilized person into a frenzied savage. Thus the angry phone call I received from the groom. I quickly found the tuxedo jacket in the back of the store and promised the groom that I would drive it down right away. Unfortunately, the wedding was in the next valley over and I was separated from it by the most congested piece of freeway in Utah. And it was rush hour.
By some miracle, I made it to the wedding just in time. I rushed into the venue and put the jacket on the father of the bride as he went out the door to give his daughter away. The tension was diffused and those in the wedding party were ultimately happy that we had corrected our mistake. In PR, trust with your publics is crucial, just as trust with your customers is crucial in retail. Nothing makes or breaks that trust more than delivering or failing to deliver on your promises. Sometimes this requires you to work under pressure. “PR roles can be incredibly varied so you will need to be able to organise your workload in order to meet strict deadlines. The ability to multi task is essential, and a flexible attitude important,” said the Europe-based Chartered Institute for Public Relations.
Know how to communicate with your publics
Shortly after I began my new position as wardrobe consultant, a man walked into Men’s Wearhouse with his wife. I greeted them and asked if I could help, to which the man curtly replied, “We can help ourselves,” and strode over to a wall of suits. His wife looked at me apologetically and the two began systematically combing through the neat rows of blue, grey and black suits. Although I got the message that he wanted to be left alone, I remembered that my job was to consult men on their wardrobe and the man was looking in the wrong size. I determined that I would try again and at least get him looking in the right spot.
I went over and asked the man a few routine questions so I would know how to best help him. These questions included, “Are you shopping for a special event?” “How often do you wear a suit?” and “What do you already have in your wardrobe?” Without looking at me, he grunted several brief responses. Following my last question, the man burst out, “I didn’t come here for you to ask me a thousand questions! I’m looking for a suit and if I need your help, I will come to you.” My face turned red from embarrassment but I let him know that he was looking in the wrong size and walked away.
After 15 minutes, the man came up to me with a clearance suit in hand. “I want to try this on,” he said. I looked at the tag; it was the wrong size. I told him that it probably wouldn’t fit the way he wanted, but I gave him a fitting room anyway. When he came out, sure enough, the suit was too tight. While his wife voiced her concerns over the fit, I went back over to the suit wall and found a suit that I thought would fit the man better. He grudgingly took the new suit into the dressing room to try it on. When he came out the second time, his wife gushed, “Oh honey, that looks so good!” It was a perfect fit.
After the man saw that I might actually know about suits and could help him, his defensive attitude crumbled. He introduced himself as Bill and told me that he was an executive for a corporate bank. Bill ended up buying two more suits in addition to the one I found for him. Before they left, he apologized for his earlier outburst. Until he moved out of Utah, Bill remained one of my loyal customers.
Whether in retail or PR, knowing how to communicate with your publics is fundamental in building a relationship of trust with them. Sometimes that means proving your capabilities in order to break down barriers. Most often it means listening and getting on a personal level with people. “PR is all about interacting with others…Strong people skills will open many doors for you, and make PR work much easier,” wrote the author of the PR blog PR in Your Pajamas, Elena Verlee.
Be authentic and network to build a successful business
Some months ago I helped a man named Jerrime order a custom suit for his wedding. We spent some time together working out the details of his outfit and quickly became friends. After ordering the suit, he came in a few more times to accessorize it with shirts and ties, always making sure that I worked the days he came in. It wasn’t long before Jerrime sent his four groomsman in to buy their suits and shirts from me as well. One day I was surprised to find an invitation in my mailbox to Jerrime’s wedding, which my wife and I gladly attended.
My friendship with Jerrime came as a result of authenticity. As a suit salesman, I did my best to help Jerrime get what he needed. I didn’t deceive him about price or the current sale; I didn’t pretend to know something I didn’t or be someone I wasn’t. Instead, I was honest and outgoing and genuine. Because of that, Jerrime was able to trust me and we were able to connect on a personal level. The network we created ultimately led to a more successful business.
Networks are a natural product of authentic interaction with people. In August, I helped Erick, a groom-to-be, pick out a free suit that he earned from renting so many tuxedos. The next day, I saw a Google review that Erick had posted. It recommended anyone going to shop at Men’s Wearhouse to ask for me.
The more connections you make with people, the more your business will grow. Thanks to my relationships, I have helped dozens of friends and family members with clothing for special events. They, in turn, have recommended others to me and I have made more connections. Store manager for the Orem Men’s Wearhouse, Lane Martin, said, “People buy things from people they like and know so it’s important to develop a good relationship with our customers. Our business is really a relationship business.”
Public relations professionals depend upon mutually beneficial relationships to communicate effectively and find success in their careers. “With so many talented public relations professionals, it’s no longer about what you know, it’s all about who you know. Networking is an essential skill that, when used wisely, can help you find future employment and enhance your career advancement opportunities,” wrote the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s PRSSA club.
Working for the Men’s Wearhouse has taught me that developing PR skills and applying them in any industry can lead to greater success in any career path.