How to make a good first impression in Public Relations

First impressions count, particularly in this industry, and all PR people know better than to turn up to meetings looking scruffy. But as well as looking smart, it is important to present your personality well too, and intrinsic to this is paying enough attention to your audience.

As Simon Turton, owner of agency Opera PR, says: “When it comes to making an impression – not to be confused with ingratiating yourself – I tend to follow the ethos set out by Dale Carnegie in his timeless classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People. I always try to listen, which means concentrating on what someone is saying rather than planning my response."

“I would also avoid any form of boasting or showing off and certainly never try to retaliate to an assumed boast, which I know sounds odd for other adults to read about. Showing off is for the playground, right? Au contraire, people of all ages can and do show off, so if the person you are meeting for the first time is explaining about his or her flat in Monaco/Aston Martin/etc., there’s no need to try to counter that with your own boast. For one, can you really top what has just been said and second, why try to take the wind out of their sails? On both counts you’re going to look a) jealous and/or b) bitter. Engage with the boast – which may be no more than a simple statement of fact – and show genuine interest. ‘Wow, I’ve never been in an Aston…‘or ‘I’d love to go to Monaco – sounds so glamorous’.

“Ultimately, just be yourself and you won’t go far wrong. Now, where did I put the keys to the Ferrari?”

Top tips for impressing people

Suggested by Kedesh Mather, senior PR manager at Technology Company MasterCard UK&I:

Look smart

“In a world which is increasingly adopting electronic communication it is often easy to forget the importance of face-to-face communication and personal appearance. For example, the simple mistake I have seen people make when interviewing candidates for communications roles or meeting new suppliers is their informal attire. My view is that you can never dress too formally for a business meeting so dressing to impress is better than chancing it with a casual look.”

Switch off

“Another really simple tip which some communication professionals do not seem to take on board, is turning your mobile off. This may sound basic, but if you have made an appointment to meet someone then you should set that time aside and not be distracted by any inbound business calls.”

Be nice

“If you are going to an office to meet with someone, make sure you are as friendly to the receptionist and/or anyone else you meet in the office, as you are to the person you made an appointment with. This is especially prevalent if you are a prospective employee as the interviewer may well ask their receptionist for feedback on a potential candidate and whether they had a positive attitude when entering the office. Small details matter!”

Suggested by Alex Waite, marketing manager at agency TNR Communications:

No fakery

“I’m always genuine when I first meet people. I think you can always spot someone who is being overly fake and it’s incredibly irritating, so simply be yourself.”

Take a grip

“A good handshake can’t be underestimated; however it can lead to various pitfalls. Grip too hard and you are likely to physically hurt someone (not recommended). Go too soft and you may appear to stroke their hand leaving them feeling uncomfortable.”

Listen and smile

“I like to try and make people feel as comfortable as possible and will ask questions, listening to their answers. It’s nice to feel others are actually interested in you and smiling at them can always soften them up. Don’t overdo the grinning though, or again you are likely to leave them feel uncomfortable.”

Make ‘em laugh

“Making people laugh early on always helps, but it’s important to gauge your audience so you use appropriate humour“.

Remember names

“Forgetting who is standing in front of you is definitely a faux pas so remembering their name is vital. I’ll try and use their name a few times early on to make sure it sticks in my head!”


What impresses you?

Sean Williams, deputy MD at PR agency Brazil: "I'm interviewing all kinds of potential candidates and the ones that stick out are those who go beyond the cursory look at our website and client list. Everyone has a Twitter account these days so connecting the dots with comment and thought around what you or your agency has tweeted recently is something I've only come across once. Challenging my own thoughts on the industry is also welcomed – but be warned as other interviewers may not be so forgiving."

Gemma Mejer, consultant at agency Calacus Public Relations: “Other than dressing to impress, I think the most important thing you can do when networking is to listen. Being able to talk the talk is all well and good, but proves nothing if you cannot respond to your contact because you haven’t been listening properly. Ultimately, at networking events, each attendee is there to gain something for themselves, whether it is new contacts, new leads or new partnerships, but you need to remember you are there to connect and build relationships. I hate nothing more than when I see PROs jump in with ‘Hi … I work in PR … are you looking for comms support?’ – There is no connection established and the consultant is only interested in their own needs. They need to take a step back and listen to ascertain whether their acquaintance needs support or not. “

Written by Daney Parker

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