Advertisements for new PR agency staff follow the same tried-and-tested format, demanding that only the brightest and the best need apply: “We are seeking a successful and highly ambitious professional looking to further their career development within an outstanding agency. Extensive experience in developing results driven communications strategies as well as excellent journalist contacts and a strong work ethic are essential,” would be a typical introduction to an advert for a future PR industry supremo.
To match this challenging criteria, candidates are usually not modest in extolling their virtues when writing their CVs: “excellent presentation skills and a proven ability to manage multiple projects”; “people person and team player”; and “proven new business winner” are typical claims used to attract the PR agency’s attention.
While I agree that all these “personal skills” are highly desirable, they could apply to a job in any industry and are simply baseline requirements for an effective PR practitioner. So what are some of the essential requirements to rise to the top of the PR industry?
Sensitive. I am not implying you run crying to the loos whenever someone shouts at you. What I mean is sensitivity on the verge of extra sensory perception, so your mental antennae can quickly pick up changes in a client’s or journalist’s views or mood before even they know it. This allows you to alter your approach, either verbal or written, accordingly. Watching a PR person beating their head against a brick wall because they failed to pick up the vibes is enough to make a grown man cry.
Listener. PR people are often far too fond of their own voice. Always remember that 50 per cent of selling, and yes PR is largely about selling information, is listening to the client or journalist and responding in the right way. Works well with a large dose of sensitivity.
Challenging. Clients need and expect you to challenge them and not to agree to a plan when you know that if they go ahead it could all go horribly wrong. It’s why you are called a PR consultant and are there to “advise”. Being challenging requires courage and confidence which improves with age and experience.
Speedy. PR is not for people who want a quiet life. You need to get things across the line quickly without jeopardising accuracy. Inevitably all your work will never be finished by the end of the day and so you need to cope with a list of to-dos that will still be there the next morning. As PR increasingly relies on hijacking breaking new stories, it may mean that your carefully laid-out plans for the day go out of the window. While it may be frustrating, rapid reaction to the new agenda is one of the most exciting parts of the job.
Energetic. Some days are like a marathon. Others are like a series of sprints. You need lots of energy to cope, often long into the night and still be the life and soul of the party.
Passionate. You need to love your clients, or certainly give them that impression, and be able to befriend the most difficult journalists. At client meetings you need to show an ever-lasting supply of enthusiasm for even the dullest of products and services and be able to engage at length on their merits.
Self-assured. Whatever the intellectual challenge you always need to be able to show clients and media that you know what they are talking about and have a grasp of all the salient facts, even if you don’t have a clue. Clients often have little sympathy that you have to carry an in-depth knowledge for a vast range of topics.
This list is by no means an exhaustive list, but it will hopefully provide an overview of some of the main skills required to succeed in the world of PR. For those who meet the challenge it’s an exciting, dynamic and rewarding experience.
Mark Knight, Director, Broadgate Mainland
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