Devil’s Advocate


In 1996, defense lawyer Gerry Spence penned a book called How to Argue & Win Every Time. The title alone grabbed my attention, given that I was surrounded at the time by a lot of contentious people – including relatives – and wanted to have an inside edge on persuading them to my point of view. The book has long since disappeared from my home library (the perils of loaning favorite tomes without a smart tracking and retrieval system) but not a week goes by that I don’t apply its two most valuable takeaway lessons to interactions with my media relations clients; specifically, (1) winning isn’t winning if it damages the personal connection and (2) the best way to lead an opponent over to your side is to demonstrate empathy for their side.

Too often in the zeal to prove a point, make a sale or close a deal, what gets lost is an investment in the actual relationship. Creating a platform of trust – coupled with showing respect for the opposing viewpoint – is what lays the foundation for positive interactions…and repeat business. As a professional ghostwriter, for instance, my initial consultation with prospective clients often reveals the latter’s lack of familiarity with today’s mercurial publishing industry. They’re typically so hell-bent on “authoring” a novel that they’ve given no thought as to its scope, its target audience, its competition, its marketing plan or, for that matter, whether a book is even the best medium to deliver their particular vision. While Marshall Field – and later, Harry Gordon Selfridge –swore by the adage, “The customer is always right,” neither of them would have been good stewards of a ghostwriting client’s career, especially if they purposely catered to demands they knew would ultimately be detrimental to the person seeking assistance.

During any negotiation phase, the more support someone perceives is being given to the elements on which both sides agree, the more ownership they’ll embrace of ideas (including differing opinions) set forth by the other party. In any form of sales, it’s the ability to play devil’s advocate – to provide your customers with the tools and knowledge to not only make an informed choice but even potentially choose someone else – that establishes and sustains your reputation as someone who knows how to help others get what they really want.


Here’s the lineup of this month’s blogs by my guest contributors:

Writing an Effective Press Release – by David Price

Everyone Could Use PR – by Michelle Messenger Garrett

Putting Personality Into Your Events – by Peita Bates

Blow Your Chances in a PR Job Interview in Four Easy Ways – by Nicole Reaney

Planning The Perfect Event (On a Not-So-Perfect Budget) – by John Leo Weber