The power of no

I was recently asked to do a talk at 20 x 20, an event at Leeds Digital Festival curated by Leeds digital agency, Stickyeyes. The panel of 20 content and PR experts, including me, had a simple remit: to share our single best tip with the (huge) virtual audience, in five minutes.

If you didn’t catch it at the time, I thought I’d share it here.

I knew quite quickly what I wanted to do my talk on. It’s the thing that’s made the most impact on me since starting our business and since lockdown in particular, and it’s all about saying NO.

I credit my four-year-old for cementing this new way of life for me, because he really doesn’t give two hoots about saying no to things, and actually, I don’t blame him!

If you know me, you’ll know I have been a long-time people pleaser…always saying yes to nights out I don’t want to go on, a nightcap I definitely shouldn’t have, taking on more stuff than I should and sometimes giving my energy to things that don’t always offer the same return.

So this has been a revelation for me, and it’s been good to discover that actually, saying no absolutely doesn’t mean you’re obstructive, rude, short-sighted or awkward - you can say no and still be liked. In fact, it actually earns you respect.

Saying no is bloody great, and this is why: it makes way for the good stuff, the stuff that really lights you up and makes you feel like a better, truer version of you – and that’s when you do the best work.

As PR people we’re quite used to taking the no’s as we’re always putting ourselves out there, pitching for work, pitching for coverage, coming up with ambitious ideas, hoping for the yes’s – but of course there are times when we get a no from a journalist who doesn’t like our pitch, no from a client who won’t commit the budget to our idea, no from a company we really had our sights set on working with. We’ve all been there, and it sucks being on the end of a no. But what happens if you reverse it? You say no, you take that position of power, because you are the expert.

Here are three examples of where you can say no if you work in PR:

1. Say no to a partnership you can’t fully commit to - either because of time, or because they don’t align with you and your values, or because it just doesn’t feel like a true partnership. You won’t get excited, you won’t get the best results and everyone will feel a bit demotivated. It’s not worth it, there’s a better fit elsewhere.

2. Say no to a campaign idea or route you’re just not comfortable with – even if you’re quite far down the line, even if your boss or the client’s directed it, even if you came up with it in the first place but after thinking about it, maybe it’s not the best. If it’s not sitting comfortably and you don’t feel like you could get results for it, don’t be afraid to pull the plug and re-work it. You’ll earn more respect in the long run and avoid loads of sleepless nights and worry by fronting it up.

3. Don’t be shy of declining a journalist interview request if it doesn’t feel right or if your client doesn’t want to do it – just tell the truth, they’ll see straight through you lying, and the ongoing relationship you have with them will more likely be saved.

I finished the talk by explaining that the way to start saying no is to know that you are a true expert in your field and to feel real confidence in you and your purpose. It might be daunting to pass up a potential money-making opportunity (and don’t be like the guy who said no to The Beatles), but if you don’t believe in it and the outcome is just too blurry for you, trust your gut, protect your energy, your time, your team and your spirit and just say no (in a nice, professional, and always truthful way!).

Thanks to Stickyeyes and Leeds Digital Festival for having me. I’m not a natural speaker, but this was a fun thing to do amongst some really great people (and an opportunity I'm glad I didn't say no to!).

Nina x