See All Posts

Asking the Extra Question

Over the first few days of the new year, I’ve been thinking a lot about Columbo, the TV police detective played so well by Peter Falk. The climactic scene from every episode is a part of television history: The rumpled investigator, stubby cigar clutched between two fingers, turns back to the (guilty) suspect and says, “Just one more question …” and from there, you knew Columbo had his man. (Or woman, as the case may be.)
What a great line. It’s one I need to remember—and perhaps you should too.
I consider myself a fairly experienced PR guy. I’ve successfully pitched stories and faculty experts to national and international publications and broadcast outlets. I’ve even done direct mailings, as well as produced and directed TV commercials, and run ad campaigns from start to finish. But working for a national firm like this has its own set of challenges. One of those is that my co-workers know each other so well. They know their strengths and weaknesses, and they know what each expects of the other. They also speak a little bit of their own language, which can require some translation for the new guy.
In a work situation, no one likes to feel like they’re lagging. No one wants to be the weak link in the team. And no one wants to feel like the person who doesn’t understand. That’s where the philosophy of “Just one more question …” can come in handy—for you and for your team.
Back in the stone ages of my journalism career, when glue pots were new and editors still used blue pencils instead of tracking changes on a Word document, I learned to always ask the extra question. I would often close interviews by asking subjects “Is there anything you think I should have asked you, but didn’t?”
That question could bring out a few gems from otherwise boring, standard interviews. I still try to use it when I’m talking with faculty members about their research. And as I transition to this new role, it’s one I am now using with my co-workers.
I think the first step to asking that question in a work environment is to realize how important it is that you’re on equal footing with your co-workers. At the end of the day, PR pros are all working toward the same goal—the success of the client. If the client is successful, then your agency (and your individual work) is successful, too.
I find this approach can be extremely valuable in a PR agency setting. The standards in agency life are different than they are elsewhere, and that can take adjustment if you’re coming over from a different type of PR. So let me encourage you to take up my own new year’s resolution and ask the extra question when you don’t know the answer. Ask without fear—because knowing is better than not knowing, and clear expectations and communication are incredibly important in our line of work.
Come on. Say it with me: “Just one more question …”