The secrets to a successful career in PR

When you start your PR career, enthusiasm takes you a long way, but for long-term success this has to be backed up with ability and skills that take time to develop. However, some people coming into the industry are impatient and want to jump to the top before they are ready. Stephen Day, COO and public affairs MD at PR firm Burson Marsteller, says this is understandable: “A lot has been written, some in a critical vein, about how fast Millennials want to climb the career ladder, but, given the cost of living in London, without promotion life will remain unaffordable, so I can understand why they are in a hurry.  And they are definitely an entrepreneurial bunch – quick to come up with new ideas and new ways of doing things – both of which are key PR skills.”  

Write, read, ring

It is good for the industry that new entrants are brimming with new ideas, but there are key areas that many new PR people need to work on. Day says that the mantra for new PROs should be “Write, read, ring”. Day explains: “The advantage of being able to write well cannot be underestimated; new PROs need to hone their ability to produce business-appropriate copy. They need to read because the wider and more varied the media you consume the wider and more varied the insights, knowledge and ideas you can offer your clients.” And last, but not least, they must be able to ring – in other words, pick up the phone. “Having the confidence and ability to build a rapport over the phone are crucial skills for conversations with journalists and maintaining good client relationships. This generation, who have a far greater range of social media and messaging apps at their disposal, may need more practice at this than their predecessors!”

Work experience helps

It helps if new entrants to PR have some understanding of the industry before they begin their jobs. As Sally McDonald, account director, at PR agency The CommsCo, says: “Candidates who have worked whilst studying are always stronger and more equipped – whatever it is they have done. That said, they need to understand the PR agency environment, what it means to be proactive, responsive, and in a service environment. Typically, they need help in client management – understanding that an agency relationship is not just commercial, but needs to be enjoyable for clients, daily. They work with us for more than just the results and return.”

Organisation is key

Discussing the abilities that young PROs need most, McDonald says that organisation is key:: “If you are going to work across multiple accounts, you need to use tools like Trello, Google docs, and Outlook Calendar to survive. Understanding of prioritisation is probably one of the hardest and fastest things you need to learn.”

 Know your media

McDonald also says that it is important to understand social media: “If new entrants are socially savvy when they join, that is a huge bonus – what then can be developed is the knowledge of tools for managing client social media feeds, listening and understanding the social media landscape. So tools like Google Analytics, Radian and Hootsuite apply here.”

But it is not just new media that needs to be appreciated, it is all media says McDonald: “You can’t teach an interest in the media, but you must know how journalists work and what makes a good story… staying on top of the media agenda and spotting opportunities to pitch in clients is vital. Writing and story development are also key training areas for new staff.”

The good news is that new people in the industry are full of enthusiasm and already possess an innate understanding of latest technologies. But there are areas they need to work on, from managing their time to writing skills. To make the most of young talent, it is vital that employers nurture existing skills and are happy to provide training in areas that are lacking;


How to develop young talent

Chris Wilson, senior manager at agency PR Office, suggests what employers need to do to make the most of new PR entrants: “Nurturing a new generation of PROs can be one of the most rewarding elements of the job. It is also a necessity for more senior team members to progress themselves. The first important step is for the entire team to engage with the process and appreciate the importance of thorough training and assistance for new joiners based upon their skill set.

“Although most PR agencies have a team structure in which the junior person reports to one level above and that individual reports to the level above them (and so on), each team member will work closely with the others. An account director will work just as closely with a junior account executive as the account manager will. A wrong hire can have a truly detrimental impact on the team and in turn the work delivered for clients.

“Public relations attracts people with very different skill sets. Some join with a natural flair for writing, others are presenters and good with people, some have an analytical eye, many are research-orientated and there are those who are simply passionate about the news. The trick from an early stage is to recognise their particular skill and harness it. Should an individual be less confident in another area of the role, it is the responsibility of the wider agency to give them the support they need to improve. In their future career, a good PR person cannot rely on one skill, he or she needs to be rounded and able to consult their client in any way they require.

“From day one, the most important way to nurture new PROs is to give them structure. I myself have joined agencies where an email address is yet to be set up, let alone a clear path for my development. Start as you mean to go on. At the PR Office for instance, we offer a structured mentorship programme, external training and The Library. The latter delivers bespoke, interactive training at all levels. Training is run by team members and are usually practical how-to sessions, such as pitching and briefing media, and digital strategy development. Our commitment to external training is also invaluable for development. Areas covered include leadership development, creating and editing video content on an iPhone – a massive area of importance in PR these days – presentation training and body language awareness. We also implement a mentorship programme. All team members have a career mentor. This is someone that can offer practical advice as well as career guidance. Team members are encouraged to meet regularly with a formal catch-up every six-eight weeks. Mentors help mentees work towards their objectives as well as understand how they can become more rounded.

“The last, and arguably the most important way of helping the new generation of PROs, is to trust them. Trust them to speak with media, trust them in client meetings, trust them to attend journalist briefings, trust them to write copy, trust them to get the job done. Look to phase junior people into activity wherever appropriate and ensure that they have the support they need to succeed. By doing the opposite, not only are you dampening the individual’s enthusiasm, you’re making out the activities to be more insurmountable than they really are. Help them through each area of their job, but trust them to get on with it too. A micromanager is a bad manager. Mistakes will happen, but if you’ve hired well, then they shouldn’t reoccur.

“Public relations is a fast-paced industry in which individuals have to juggle multiple responsibilities and ensure anything created is of the highest quality, quickly. The hardest thing for new joiners to the industry to master is simply the workload. By giving structure, harnessing their skills, offering clear training and trusting them to do the job they’ve been hired to do, you will have nurtured a more rounded and efficient PR person. Good for you, your agency and your clients. The next step is making sure you hold on to them!”