Last weekend I had the opportunity to work at an ice cream parlor for a day to help raise money for my university’s PRSSA Chapter. We had a lot of fun making sundaes and serving customers, but I couldn’t help but notice the public relations lessons to learn during our time behind the counter.
1. It’s all about teamwork
Every time we had a wave of customers it was hard not to run into each other as we scrambled to prepare each order in a timely manner. After the first couple waves of customers had passed, we realized it was much easier to help each other out. One person would handle each order, but the order was filled by an effort from each of us. In public relations, a lot of what is done is not possible without teamwork. Usually if one person tried to do all of the work, the overall product would not be as high quality than if there were a group effort.
2. Give people exactly what they want (Unless they’re in danger)
One of the first things we learned as servers for the day was to give people exactly what they want. People often come in with a specific craving and are not interested in substitutes. The exception, however, is when we see potential danger. For instance, a young child can ask to sample something, but when they might not realize it has nuts and they have an allergy, there can be a big problem at hand.
In PR it’s important to excel at client service. Be available, attentive and helpful, and when you see potential danger ahead, work with your client to proceed with caution, taking necessary steps to avoid crisis. This should all be done in an ethical manner, openly and transparently and taking blame where blame is due.
3. Communication is key
With four of us behind the counter, it was hard, at times, to remember which customers had been helped. When there was a problem, it often took a lot of backtracking to find out which cone or toppings the customer ordered.
In PR it’s so important to dedicate one spokesperson to handle an issue with a client so others aren’t attempting to reestablish what’s already been stated. Communication between employees is important as well to ensure that efficiency is mastered.
4. Be prepared for messes
With more than one hundred ice cream flavors, a blender, a shelf of glassware, more that ten different toppings and four amateurs scooping ice cream, a mess was bound to happen. We designated a clean up person to sweep the floors every so often and kept everything where it belonged to avoid catastrophe and after a few errors and chose specific roles for each person to make sure everything was being done correctly, leaving no room for confusion.
In public relations it’s not about “if” a crisis happens, but “when.” It’s important to be proactive, keep everything in order and always plan ahead because you never know when you’ll be faced with a crisis where every minute counts.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
The 45-minute training session was helpful, but in the heat of the moment, it was easy to forget small details such as how much the ice cream weighed, if the customer wanted a to-go container and which flavor belonged in which cup or cone. We found out very quickly that it’s better to present the customer with exactly what they ordered without making them wait rather than messing up a few times before getting it right.
Public relations work is no different. One question can be the difference between a high-quality end product and having to completely start over and waste the resources put into the first try. Be efficient, ask questions, and be transparent to make sure your end result is acceptable.
How will you apply lessons from the ice cream parlor in your client work this week?