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How to be a great manager in PR

The Peter Principle suggests that people get promoted one level above their level of competence, so make sure you succeed in your PR management role by being confident that your leadership and organisational skills are up to the job.

Five tips for being a great manager in PR

  1. Roll up your sleeves. Join in, you can lead from the front, but you also need to lead by example and work alongside everyone in the team.
  2. Understand each individual you manage. Then tailor how you communicate with each person so that they understand you.
  3. Use tough love sometimes. Never being critical isn’t always helpful. People can only learn from their mistakes if they know they have made them.
  4. Be empathetic. If you aren’t feeling what your people are feeling, you cannot truly engage with them and they will not respond to you.
  5. Plan, plan, plan. It’s no good having the best communications and people skills in the world if you can’t structure a project so that it runs smoothly. Deadlines and budgets have to be set and then adhered to.

Join in
For a start don’t just lead your team, but be part of it. Beth Farrer, director at communications agency Farrer Kane, says: “Rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck in the day-to-day client work no matter how senior you are, is one of the best management tips I would offer any agency.

“It sounds obvious, but I think there’s a temptation in the industry for those at the top levels to cut themselves off from any implementation for clients – quite naturally focusing on the strategic and high concept stuff, as well as bringing in new business. Obviously those are an essential part of the picture – but staying involved in the everyday delivery alongside strategy, makes a real difference, from both a client-satisfaction and a team-development point of view.

“When it comes to delivering great results for clients, it’s vital to lead by example and clients of course appreciate the senior-level input. The other side of it is that it’s one of the best ways to develop the team. When team members at all levels have the chance to work closely alongside senior colleagues, it fast tracks their own career development, and it’s much more satisfying for everyone involved.”  

Adapt to survive
Being prepared to muck in is important, but it is also important to mark yourself out as the leader. A key skill you need to do this is being adaptable. Mark Stringer, founder of communications agency PrettyGreen, explains: “Good managers come in all shapes and sizes, and there’s definitely not a one size fits all. But one simple truth is that good managers tailor their management style to the individual. They will always be the same person, same mannerisms, same personality type, but like good sportsmen who changes their game plan to suit the conditions and their opponents, a brilliant manager will do the same.” 

Be mean if you have to
Sometimes being a leader means being tough. Stringer gives an example of one manager who got results using harsh measures: “I had an unbelievably hard manager when I was embarking on my early career as a client, someone who would throw me out of his office if he found a typo in the opening paragraph, or if the work wasn’t good enough, they’d say: “I’m not sure I’m here to mark your work, come back when it’s better”. 

“It would take me days of grovelling to the PA to get another meeting in the diary, as without their sign-off I’d miss all my deadlines. 

“What they were trying to teach me was to be more prepared, up my game, and ensure that what I was presenting was checked and double checked, which I did. Some people respond well to that type of management style others find it too tough. I look back on that time as being invaluable in reinforcing that you need to do the hard work on your projects and solve the problems, not your manager. I also believe that this particular manager saw something in me that they liked and they would give me a particularly tough time as they thought I had some potential.”

Use your people skills
Being tough doesn’t always work, and the way to know which type of approach to take is by taking the time to understand what your people need from you. Stringer gives an example of one manager who got it completely wrong: “I also had a terrible manager. Not because the person was a terrible person, but because they just lacked empathy. We were incredibly different, they were highly educated, a real intellect, incredibly strategic, but lacked the ability to connect emotionally with me. We just never saw eye to eye and I got to the place where I just didn’t respect them or want to listen to them, which caused real friction. But we never spoke about it. I have even kept my appraisal notes from over 20 years ago, as they were so wrong (in my mind) as to who I was as a person. Which just reinforced my perception that I had a senior manager who had no idea who I was, or my strengths and weaknesses.”

Be organised
People skills are a given if you want to get respect and co-operation from those you manage. They can only take you so far though if you do not have strong organisational skills. Kris Crawford, VP Marketing at technology services firm The Media Trust, says: “Good PR teams need to consider the time, money and resources required for successful project execution, establish milestones, assign people to specific tasks, communicate timelines and make sure everything runs smoothly.”

It might seem boring, but being methodical and keeping track of timesheets; implementing schedules and controlling finances are necessary. If you can’t stick to a budget or meet a deadline, those above you will soon notice you have been promoted above your abilities and move you back down. Great communications skills are number one in PR, but if they are the only skills you possess, there is a limit to how high you can climb up the career ladder.

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