September 25, 2022

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Three options to address “pick my brain” exhaustion

Three options to address “pick my brain” exhaustion

Ah, social media. Where one person’s thought process and post can degenerate into name calling, accusations of arrogance, and my favorite scenario: dozens of people calling one another douchebags.


For those who have missed the rapidly degenerating exchange, Peter Shankman, the founder and brains behind the deservedly popular “Help A Reporter Out” (HARO) site that matches up PR pros and reporters, posted a brief and I think exasperated tweet about constant demands on his time. It said, quite simply, “New Rule: If your email starts off with ‘I want to pick your brain,’ my reply starts off with ‘at $400 per hour.'”

This struck a nerve with Kami, who clearly was already thinking about popularity, money, and incivility on the Internet, as she used this example as a lead off to a blog post about arrogance that mentioned among other things people with business cards that say “Google me,” (seriously? – Gag.) and the Lebron James me-fest that was on TV.

You can predict what happens next. Peter posts an “Open Letter to Kami” response, and it turns into a Peter’s fans vs. Kami’s fans, all played out in the comments sections on both posts, and oh, look, we’re all back in middle school.

What struck me though, was a series of Tweets by Susan Getgood, pointing out that this (being asked to donate time, constant requests to “pick your brain,”) is a problem, and that “many are feeling this pain.” I know and respect Susan, she’s a very smart lady and strategist and it doesn’t surprise me at all that people are seeking her counsel. If she says it’s a problem, it is.

My mom always said:

If you have a problem, it’s because you haven’t made a decision.

To give credit where I believe it’s due, I think she got this from Dr. Leo Buscaglia. Over and over in my personal life, this has proven to be true. So, if we are to look first at the response that Shankman got from his original tweet–a number of people retweeted it, with a “right on” type of addition to the tweet–and then at Susan’s contribution, clearly there are a lot of people who feel taken advantage of. So what are their options?

Option 1

Say no. It’s that simple and yet so hard. How can one little word be so difficult? It’s because these are good people, who want to help. It’s hard to say no. So if you’re feeling taken advantage of, channel your inner J.D. Salinger, hunker down and say no.

The problem with this option is that if you’ve built a business around being social, constantly saying no will eventually have some ramifications for you business-wise. This was one of Kami’s points that managed to get completely lost in the resulting hue and cry.

Option 2

Change your attitude. In reading all of this “stuff” surrounding this kerfuffle, I immediately thought of Chip Griffin’s recent post, “Go Ahead: Pick My Brain.” Chip is one of the busiest people I know. He travels pretty much constantly, demands on his time are myriad, and yet he still manages to be cheerful and upbeat. It didn’t surprise me at all that his response to “pick my brain” is “go ahead.” But the big takeaway from his post is the way he chooses to view these exchanges:

The truth is that I usually get as much out of these sessions as I give.

Wow. Instead of conveying a feeling of being taken advantage of, he states he gets something out of them. You get what you give.

Option 3

Keep doing what you are doing. Unsatisfying, exhausting, and will likely lead to burnout. Perhaps. If this is the path you choose, do so consciously and don’t complain about being a victim.

Looking at all that is happening right now might make it feel like these demands on time will be never-ending, but this–the social media learning phase bubble–will eventually pop. When people start to get their own footing in this space, and as it becomes more ubiquitous, there will be less of a need to seek counsel. As Geoff Livingston aptly put it in the comments section of Kami’s post “success can be fleeting.”

So, another thing my mom always said comes into play: “this too, shall pass.”

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the Director of Marketing Communications for CARMA. She is also the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for more than 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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    Peter Shankman

    Excellent point re: You get as much as I give.

    Problem is, I tend to be a giver – My assistant has made it clear to me that I need to STOP giving for free – I'll sit for three hours and help someone, and then, they'll go make money out of my ideas – and I get… a hot dog lunch. 🙂

    The key is balance. You a non-profit? Pick my brain all you want. Work with animal rescue or abused women? I'll spend my weekend giving you as much as I can.

    I think in the end, we all want to do good, yet none of us want to be taken advantage of. Which I think makes sense.

    Thanks for the post – Good one.



      Thanks for dropping by, Peter (and, wow, that was quick!).

      Balance is indeed the key.

      PS–How are your new abs? 😉

      (If that doesn't make sense to people reading, then you've missed one of the more hilarious advertising stunts:


  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Three options to address “pick my brain” exhaustion « Media Bullseye – A New Media and Communications Magazine --

    Peter Shankman

    My new abs are arriving via FedEx tomorrow. CAN'T WAIT!! 😀

    Seriously though – Can't believe he responded! How cool is that!? Beats the hell out of some BS conversation over my alleged pompousness. I'll HAVE ABS! ALL ELSE IS CHAOS. 😀

    Susan Getgood

    Jen — Completely agree with your three options. I have no problem with people asking for advice, and usually am more than happy to share my thoughts. Briefly. But I set boundaries, and make it clear how much time I have to share for free. And when I really can't take on a freebie, I say so up front.

    But I learned this lesson the hard way. I used to offer an hour free to people considering using my consulting services. And then I noticed a very disturbing trend of people calling JUST for the hour. With no intention or budget to hire me.

    The other thing behind my tweets was that companies regularly reach out to bloggers asking to pick their brains about programs or products — sometimes asking them to provide very detailed information. For free. As though their time has no value.

    There's got to be a balance of value, that's all. Chip is getting value so he's happy to take the free lunch. When the value tips too much to the asker, compensation is in order.


      Susan, you are of course correct–and I'm very familiar with the blogger aspect of this discussion too. I've seen the posts, and I've even passed some along to clients to illustrate a shift in mood that I felt they should be aware is occurring.

      "Balance of value" is a good phrase–I really like that and think it is key to the discussion. Sometimes that balance is going to be concrete (say, acknowledgment, credit, or–dare I say a portion of the profit–when the brain "picker" achieves success). Other times, it's going to be a feeling of paying it forward, or good karma, such as helping a non-profit that clearly is barely able to pay their employees to do good work, much less afford hundreds of dollars an hour for a consulting fee.

      Is Chip unique in getting value, or is he choosing to see value, where others see only a one-way contribution? This was what I was trying to get at about attitude. Sometimes just shifting our perspective can make us happier. It might not change the outcome, but changing our perspective can make us feel more at peace with our decision to help.

      I guess ultimately my point is that complaining about being too much in demand and taken advantage of is within one's power to address. Thanks for commenting–your Tweets really did kick off the thought process.

    Lynette Radio

    There is a huge difference between those who take your knowledge and make the world a better place or just their own bottom line. I can't tell you how many times I've given up an hour or an afternoon to let someone 'pick my brain' and have them turn around and make a bag full of money from it without so much as offering a 'thank you' or a cup of coffee.

    A-Listers like Peter need to be cautious though. Making a decision across the board can be dangerous. Some time ago I met a particular person of means and influence for the first time (we share many friends across our circles) and in the first 60 seconds of hand-shaking and elevator speeches he announced he charges $30k for his time & we have to pay for lunch (my numbers may be off…) WHOA. DUDE. I just want to meet you and find out a bit more about you & network for a few minutes. I respect who / what he does, but now am still put off by him & can very clearly see that he is accustomed to people 'mooching' either time or advice from him.


    Lynette, that would turn me off big-time too. When I hear things like that, I truly wonder if those individuals know how they sound. It's like that dating site commercial where they show a couple on a first date, and she says "okay, tell me–first impression: Would you marry me?"

    On the point about making money without a thank you or cup of coffee–yikes. That's appalling. I don't know how I'd address that–even actors/actresses, purportedly the most self-centered people ever, manage to thank the Academy, their moms, and God publicly for helping them achieve their goals. This ties back to one of Kami's points about people becoming increasingly self-centered. I'd wager some of those people think it was exclusively their own hard work that got them that bag full of money, not thinking about the ideas, structure and process that helped them get there. How does one screen for self-awareness?

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