Can I Pick Your Brain? No.

Can I pick your brainLately I get contacted by people who, by all accounts, appreciate that I have a skill set they value enough to ask me to help them with a public relations issue. And they’re even willing to pay for that knowledge – in the form of a cup of coffee or lunch.

I like coffee and lunch. Sadly, I’ve been unable as of late to find a way for coffee or lunch to pay the first damn bill in my business. Therefore, I’m joining a long list of people who are fed up. Allow me to present:

Exhibit A- 15 responses to requests to “pick your brain”

Exhibit B- 3 ways to say no to people who want to pick your brain

Exhibit C- What to say when someone asks to pick your brain

Like the talented people who wrote the blog posts in the three exhibits above, I’m fed up with being invited to lunch or coffee because you want to “pick my brain.” Exasperated with being asked to take a look at your website and give you some recommendations for how you might drive traffic to it. Barely able to control the eye-roll when asked to serve on your organization’s board or event planning committee so I can help you with publicity. Nearly unable to contain myself when you say you want to learn more about what I do…and also want to share how your business can help me. Let me come to you if I want your services. Don’t trap me into hearing your pitch after listening to mine – that you requested – because now I think you don’t give a shit about what I can offer you; you were just waiting for me to shut up so you could  sell me your product/service.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I get that you’re a journalist and I used to be a journalist, and you’re considering jumping the fence to the PR side of things. And hey, I’m ALREADY on the PR side of things, so I know where you’ve been and where you think you want to go. But understand that I have a business to run. And there’s that whole coffee-and-lunch-don’t-pay-the-bills thing.

I don’t look at the world with dollar signs in my eyes. I’m always happy to answer a quick question. I haven’t forgotten my roots; I know I didn’t get here on my own. I have crazy-smart friends who’ve offered advice and guidance. I have a mentor  gracious enough to involve me in projects that have taught me a great deal. But here’s the difference, and the step too many people overlook these days: it starts with relationships. I’m reminded of the saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I know some people are different, but for me, you shouldn’t contact me when we have no relationship, and ask to pick my brain. And you shouldn’t contact me to build a relationship if your ultimate goal is picking my brain. That isn’t authentic.

Can I pick your brain?You may think by stating all of this, I’ve essentially just given you the finger. Wrong again. I understand people want to know what I know. Public relations is valuable. That’s why my team and I share tons of information every day on this blog. Read it. Share it. Follow it. I hope it brings you enormous success. But please understand this: I’m fortunate to stay busy with work from people who value my services enough to pay for them. Remember that saying about free milk and the cow? Insert that here.

Public relations is how I make my living. It’s how I pay my employees.  So I want you to understand that I can’t work for you for free.

I know this post is going to feel like a brand new pair of uncomfortable shoes to a few people. I’m right there with you. I’m guilty of uttering the words “can I pick your brain” myself. It’s only now that the tables have turned that I see the err of my ways. To anyone I’ve ever said “I’d like to pick your brain,” I extend my deepest apologies. I am striking that phrase from my vocabulary.