Work a beat, know your client

As a journalist, I was assigned a beat, or subject I was responsible for writing for the newspaper. I was expected to make and keep contacts who could give me information, and if there was a question on the subject, I had better know the answer or who to call to get the answer in a hurry.

I had to be a quick study, and if I didn’t quite know what I was doing, I was expected to fake it until I did.

After I changed careers in 2010, I realized there wasn’t much difference between knowing your client and knowing your beat. For clients, I write articles and take photos, and because of this, I’m expected to either know about the subject or know how to find the information.

When I started working on our sheet metal account, I had many “explain this to me like I’m a 5-year-old” moments. I had no idea what snips were, what TAB meant and what lagging had to do with sheet metal work. There were so many acronyms (HVAC, ITI, SMOHIT, NEMIC), I thought I had joined the military.

But I learned: “Snips” are a tool for cutting sheet metal; “TAB” stands for “testing, adjusting and balancing” and lagging is the art of insulating … that thing-a-ma-jig. See, knowing my client doesn’t mean I know everything about them, but the fact I’m willing to learn and learn it correctly goes miles with them. Any of my contacts are willing to answer my questions to ensure I get it correct, and they like the fact I’m taking an interest in their industry, their craft. I’ve become educated, so I can educate others.

When you have a client, the more you know about what they do and how they do it, the better you can come up with ideas for them. You know what sort of photos they need for their brochure; the voice of the context of their website; or the way they’ll feel about anything presented to them. The more in tune you are, the happier they are and, in turn, the better your relationship is with them.

It takes time. It took me awhile to study up on fire and smoke dampers, air handlers and plasma tables. I’ve visited sheet metal training centers in Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Austin, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Oklahoma City, Flint and Portland. And the fact I can speak their lingo, and carry on conversations about their industry, not only makes the client happy, it makes it easier for me to promote their craft. That’s time well spent.

Tiffannie Bond is the Media Relations Specialist and Company Photographer for Imagine Communications. She can be reached at tbond@weareimagine.com.

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