[Updated for 2023] Replying to a post that Sarah Browning shared on LinkedIn, in which she asked her network what their clients remember from them when they’re not there, got me thinking about the phrases I use most often in my work as a PR advisor to charities and not-for-profit organisations:

Sit on your hands

I have lost count of how regularly I say this, and most of my clients have heard it at some time. It’s a phrase I use when people are tempted to respond immediately to emails or social media posts, particularly critical ones. There is a lot to be said for pausing and reflecting before replying – if indeed you do respond because that pause often brings a different perspective to the situation.


In her post, Sarah explains the impact of asking ‘so what?’. I use ‘why?’ in a similar fashion. It helps you to get to the heart of what you’re trying to say, particularly when you’re working on a communication strategy or delivery plan, writing a quote or a response to a media request. For example:

“We want to raise awareness of our service”


“So people know what we can do for them”


Because we can help them with A, B and C and for many people, that means them being able to do X, Y and Z.”

Probe your ‘why?’ to find your purpose.

Perfection is the enemy of progress

Overthinking routine decisions and consistently trying to over-deliver can lead to you underperforming when it matters most. Amongst my clients, I see unbelievable commitment and dedication in the face of often overwhelming challenges, but none of us can give 100% all the time. In some instances, good enough is good enough as this allows us to save the big thinking and big energy for when we need big action.

In the interests of transparency, I should add this is a ‘do as I say not as I do’ phrase. When it comes to my own perfectionist tendencies I’m a work in progress.

Don’t let the tail wag the dog

This applies in so many scenarios but I usually offer this advice when organisations are thinking about tactics before identifying the problem they’re trying to solve. Rarely is setting up a Facebook Group/producing a leaflet/creating a TikTok account going to be the answer to your comms problems.

Is it worth…

…us doing [the exact opposite thing]? I have no doubt this is a little irritating, but I will always encourage my clients to consider alternative views and approaches. Sometimes we’re so set on what we believe is the right way to do things that we overlook the potential benefits of adopting a different approach.

“But we’ve always done it this way” is anathema to me if there’s no solid evidence as to why.

Image of t-shirts on a washing line. One is printed with the caption Dilemma? Dial Gemma

And finally… Dilemma? Dial Gemma

If I was to invest in Gemma Pettman PR merch, this would be the slogan on the shirts. My point here is not to underestimate the value of talking to someone you trust, who is one step removed from the situation you find yourself in or the challenge you’re facing.

I took a collaborative approach to managing my team in my last in-house role and have adopted the same approach to working with clients. We work through potential problems (often not just communication problems) together to find the best possible solution.

What phrases do you find yourself using over and over again with the people you work with?

Dilemma? Dial Gemma could soon apply to you. From next month I have the capacity for one, possibly two, new clients so if you need communication support, let me know how I could help you.