Crain’s: If I Knew Then…

Schwartz Media Strategies CEO Tadd Schwartz tells Crain’s what mistake has helped shape his business philosophy.

By Nicole Martinez

The Mistake:

Early on in my career, I found myself going into meetings and doing most of the talking, rather than allowing my client or potential client to lead the conversation.

Tadd Schwartz

This is kind of a common mistake but it’s surprising that’s some people just don’t realize it.

I was always very outgoing and I’m very social, but in a professional setting, I found myself going into meetings and dealing with clients in business and just talking their ear off. And I think the reason why I would fall into this trap is that as a public relations professional, we all want to get new business and show that we’re smart.

You want to prove yourself, and when I was younger, I was always very ambitious from the standpoint of, “I’m going to go into that meeting, and I’m going to knock their socks off with everything I know about PR and everything we’re capable of at the firm.”

I’d go in with my PowerPoint, determined to show them my capabilities and all my case studies, and I’d end up putting myself in a position where I’m doing the vast majority of the talking and not doing enough listening. I was losing opportunities because I was talking too much, and when I finally realized that, it’s like a lightbulb went off.

The Lesson:

I have a number of “rainmaker” clients that I’ve talked to about this, and the one trait that they have in common that they realized over the years is the best way to connect with a client or prospect is to shut up and listen.

Now, I rarely ever do a PowerPoint presentation, because it’s extremely hard to connect with who you’re presenting to. For example, we just won a piece of business, a wealth management firm, and they selected from a group of three PR firms. They all came in with PowerPoint [presentations], and they asked us to do the same. And we said no. We came in and we sat down and talked for two hours, and we did our homework. We literally just asked questions and got to know them.

They told us it was the first meeting they had where they actually knew more about our business in some aspects than we did, and they felt like they could actually partner with us. And that was a tremendous compliment in the sense that we didn’t even talk about our firm. Instead, we spent the majority of the time talking about their position in the market and who their competitors are and who needs to be reached and how to do it.

Learning to shut up and listen not only changed my professional outlook but it also helped me personally. Even in my relationships with my friends, my wife, my parents, you realize that the more questions you ask and the more listening you do, you make the other person feel understood and that’s how you connect with people. So once I was able to apply that to business, the whole concept of going into a meeting with a client or going into a new business presentation became so natural, so organic.

I was able to really understand the importance of listening and the value of sitting and asking the right questions. That’s the secret. It sounds so easy to do, but sometimes you have to catch yourself. And that’s really the backbone of how we have built our relationships with our clients. That one concept has allowed us to build our business.

Follow Schwartz on Twitter at @taddschwartz and Schwartz Media Strategies at @SchwartzMedia.