Whatever industry you work in, getting to the top always involves hard work, there is never an easy route to success. To shine in PR your hard work also needs to be combined with certain qualities. So we asked senior PROs: What does it take to be awesome in PR?
The must-have characteristic that gets mentioned most often is empathy. As Jill Hawkins, director at agency Aniseed PR, says: “I think that being a great PRO is all about empathy and listening. Listen to your journalists – what do they want and when, how do they work, when are they too busy to speak to you, when do they have time to chat? Be empathic to their needs and wants, and then educate your clients to work this way too…”
We have written before about the power of being introvert in PR, but Victoria Ruffy, founder and partner at PR agency Little Red Rooster, believes that the best PROs tend to be extrovert. She adds: “They enjoy having a good time, but importantly are most happy when they see other people satisfied. Being the go-between can sometimes be tough and it takes a unique person to balance the two sides, often taking the flack when it’s not their fault.”
Ruffy also extols the power of passion: “You need to be passionate about the media, marketing and your job. If your heart's not in it then I think a love of PR is hard to fake.”
Being creative is the quality that most impresses Helen Frear, PR, social media and content executive at agency The Comms Co: “In an industry where businesses and consumers are inundated with content 24/7 and journalists’ inboxes are bombarded with hundreds of pitches every day, originality is often the biggest challenge that PROs face today.”
Frear says that being a great communicator with quick reactions is also vital: “In today’s fast-moving media world, PROs have to react more quickly than ever before to beat the masses.”
Top tips for being awesome in PR
From Denise Kaufmann, CEO of Ketchum London:
“PR is such a broad profession these days that our people come from all sorts of different backgrounds – and that diversity has made us stronger. A big agency will have analysts and researchers, planners and creatives, account handlers and counsellors, traditional, digital and paid media experts, designers and even music and film producers. Each of these multinational professionals will bring their own unique talents and experiences.
“What do all these people have in common? A willingness to adapt and work together? That’s a table stake. A strong desire to succeed and make an impact? Absolutely. Impeccable communication skills? You’d certainly hope so.
“But the one quality I’d hone in on is an ability to observe the world through another person’s eyes and then tell that story with colour and texture. To imagine alternate realities beyond the obvious and bring back fascinating insights. To think unconventionally and yet give others the confidence to pursue your ideas.
“This faculty is something that’s very hard to teach. It’s also a limitation of big data. Yet somehow it’s also the spark great PROs need every day.”
From Carie Barkhuizen, managing director at agency Seymour PR:
“Over the years I’ve had numerous team-building days that always include a personality test. Despite experiencing this ritual as a newbie to PR in an agency, a head of department in-house and everything in between, the outcome is always the same. Every time, 99% of the team have emerged with results near enough the same.
“Does this mean that it’s only the Myers Briggs ENTPs of the world that can really excel in the industry and it’s out the door for the rest? Absolutely not. And here’s why. Whilst I tend to see a majority in the industry, there is also always one person in the room with personality traits that the others are missing. A successful team of super creative, extrovert characters needs someone to keep them on deadline, in budget and generally in the detail.
“When I look around my peers at the people making fast moves to the top, it’s clear that it’s not enough to be one or the other. You have to have it all. And if you don’t have it, you need to learn it. Look around you for the person who is concerned about something completely different than you are under pressure. Identify their strengths and start learning from them.
“People who are naturally drawn to PR will feel comfortable with selling, creative thinking and forming relationships easily. But coming up with a headline-grabbing stunt in the shower does not make a superstar!
“Being able to think clearly under pressure, deal with difficult confrontation, and channel the creative energy of those around you to drive an agenda are just some of the skills that the vast majority of the PR population lacks. Learning to bridge the gap is where the opportunity for real success lies.”
From Jessica O’Dell, manager at PR agency Gemini People:
“Be curious. Ask the smartest people you know smart questions whenever you can. Be a human sponge for information, listen closely and you will undoubtedly become a far better practitioner. The more insight and perspective you have, the more credible you’ll be to your peers and clients. PR people love to talk; so glean as much information from those around you as you can. All the time.
“Be agile. The PR landscape is shifting constantly and rapidly; therefore you need to keep abreast of innovations in communication platforms and the ways in which people consume information. You and your clients need to know how, when and why to harness these channels in order to shape behaviour and conversation to the utmost. PR is an integral part of marketing communications, but you also need to understand the other disciplines that orbit it.
“Be a super relationship builder. PR is a very small world full of super connectors and influencers. So it’s really important to be authentic, work hard, work smart, don’t burn bridges and always remember that people can very quickly go from being colleagues to clients, or even be the ticket into that amazing in-house job you want further down the line.”
From Ellie Pocock, account manager at agency Teamspirit Public Relations:
“PR is an industry that welcomes all sorts of experience and expertise, but there are a few skills that are essential for anyone wanting to be awesome at PR. Organisation. PR professionals love lists and for good reason. In an environment when you are constantly juggling multiple tasks, they really help you keep on top of your work. Personable nature. The ability to strike up a relationship almost instantaneously is invaluable in PR. Be friendly, smile when you’re talking (even if you’re on the phone) and always follow up after meeting someone new.
Flexibility. You need to be able to chop and change at the drop of a hat. You never know when a comment opportunity might come up, or a client might pop in so always be ready to duck and dive. Know your industry. Perhaps the most important trick of the trade – absorb yourself in news, listen, watch and read as much as you can. Your friends might get fed up of you discussing the impact of oil prices on pensions over dinner, but when you can keep up with the editor of the money section at The Times you’ll be the one laughing.”
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