Standing in the shadow of the secretary

I have, over the years, met possibly hundreds of secretaries. On the whole, they’re very nice, amiable people. Some of course (and I’m sure we can all remember specific individuals) have been with their Partner in the firm since he was seven and they guard his wellbeing like a rottweiller guarding her pups.

I’d like to say right here and now that I bear absolutely no ill will toward secretaries – I was one myself many moons ago. They work hard, in most cases have a fantastic knowledge of the industry and always seem to be completely organised and in control.

The problem is, the Partners.

A Partner looks upon his secretary as his platonic life-partner, his right arm, his confidante, (his nanny?) The two will share history, secret jokes and cups of coffee with homemade biscuits that she’s made (being wonder woman).

So you’d better make sure as a marketing professional that she likes you.

You may think that she looks like Mrs Slocombe on one of her blue rinse days, you may think that she is somewhat too abrupt with clients and other members of staff. You will find, however, that her Partner hangs on her every word and would sooner glue the managing partner’s hands to his desk than chastise her at any point.

Face facts – she has earned her respect and commands much more of it from her Partner than you are ever likely to.

But don’t be resentful. The secretary knows her stuff, is able to hold down the fort for the Partner and can multi-task with the best of them. Seething every time that particular Partner cancels your meeting to have a drawn out private chat with his secretary will do you no good. Instead, try and persuade her to come on side with you. Yes, I know this is a tactic rarely seen in most books on marketing professional services, but believe me, it works. Here’s a few tips for you to try out:

1. Make sure you smile and are polite every time you cross paths

2. Try and remember a piece of personal information – ask her how her son’s doing at nursery, how her dog’s doing after that visit to the vets. You get the picture.

3. Don’t try to boss her about or criticise her. Guaranteed it will go straight back to her boss and you’ll find yourself in the unpleasant situation of having to explain your actions.

4. Without moving too far outside the remit of your own department or putting your own deadlines at risk, in the unlikely event that she looks like she needs some help, offer some if you can.

By becoming at least civil and perhaps even downright friendly to a pool of secretaries, you can look forward to:

1. Most importantly, having some tasty homemade treats offered to you

2. Advice if the Partner isn’t available or is avoiding you

3. Often, offers of support if you’re drowning in paperwork or need additional help at events

4. Backup, if the Partner doesn’t see eye to eye with your advice or opinion

In an ideal world, Partners would hang off our every word and take our advice as Gospel, following it to the letter. Sadly, professional services, lets face it, is barely in the real world, never mind the ideal! Professional marketers need all the support we can get, regardless of how long we’ve been in the industry or how many letters we have after our name. Bonding with the secretaries may seem superfluous to the real objectives of contributing to your firm’s bottom line, but I tell you what – it doesn’t half help.


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