The best practitioners of every trade typically share certain characteristics. Here are 5 essential traits possessed by good PR professionals.
Not too long ago I was asked to guest lecture a group of undergraduates on the 101s of public relations. It was a fun exercise, but also daunting — how to distill a profession into a 45 minute class.
Naturally, we discussed what public relations actually is, how to approach writing for it, and how to assemble an effective strategy. Even though those topics (and some others) already made for a jam-packed presentation, I had to include what I believe are the five most common hallmarks of good PR professionals.
Here’s what I included in that list:
Some people seem to have this trait hardwired in their DNA. And while it’s not impossible to acquire this characteristic if it’s not embedded somewhere in your genetic fiber, it’s rarely learned overnight. A key to being a successful PR professional is to be able to view yourself and the interest(s) you represent from the perspective of those you’re communicating with, whether they be customers, voters, members of the media, or something else.
It’s important to appreciate how you’ll fit into the worldview of the audience on the other side of your message. If you can do that, then you’ll be able to better position your approach. Young businesses tend to struggle with this because they’re often so full of gusto that they haven’t paused from their hard-charging desire to take over the world. Legacy entities can fail here too by thinking that the messaging that worked a decade ago is still meaningful today.
There will never — I repeat, NEVER! — come a time when you can afford to stop learning. Good PR professionals are always religious consumers of copious amounts of information. Whether it’s reading about best practices across the public relations profession, trends in the industry you represent, customer reviews, or the reporting interests of the media outlets you want to engage, being well-read is not an option.
And just how important is being studious? Two of the remaining three traits on this list are heavily influenced by it. It’s a watershed characteristic that can deliver seemingly countless downstream benefits. Without a hunger for knowledge, you’ll be severely limiting your ability to function as a PR professional.
Really, you might as well look for a different job.
Think about how loud the the world is that we live in today. Not long ago, I read a 2017 article citing a study that claimed we’re exposed to 4,000 advertisements per day. While that estimate may seem high, it gives credence to the fact that consumers get waylaid with attention-seeking voices all day long.
And then there’s the media. In an earlier post I noted that an editor friend of mine said each department at her newspaper gets hit with roughly 100 press releases on a daily basis. This in a market ranking, according to Nielsen, nearly in the triple digits — slightly larger than Jackson, Mississippi.
It takes a very creative spirit to cut through that clutter and resonate with an audience. But you don’t have to be uber-creative by nature to come up with good ideas. We all have some creativity in us. You just have to stimulate it. And do you know what activates your creative mojo the best? That’s right, being studious (see above). Inspiration doesn’t just drop from the sky. The more you read, the more — good and great — ideas will present themselves.
When I made my presentation to those undergraduates, I originally had this bullet point listed as “diligent.” While diligence is muy importante, I don’t think it’s a strong enough word to convey just how hard good PR professionals have to work at their craft. So much research, so much building, so much measurement, so much modification.
What’s more, you have to be able to take rejection — most notably when pitching stories — and keep chugging along. In this regard, public relations folks often resemble salespeople. We can’t let a “no” bother us too much. Instead we need to be able to steel ourselves against them emotionally, learn from them, and grow.
Being able to see landmines as well as opportunities ahead of you is paramount in the public relations world. With foresight you can help your organization sidestep a potentially hazardous situation, and you can also anticipate chances for a positive media presence.
Admittedly, few things help develop foresight better than tenure in the field. Yet again, though, nothing can compress that learning season like — drum roll, please — being studious. A passive approach to information consumption will stunt your PR professional development incredibly, and you’ll rarely be able to see anything outside your narrow information silo. So, study up.
Of course there are many other characteristics that mark good PR professionals. These, however, are five that I’ve seen present the best of my peers.
David Martin is the founder of Heed Public Relations. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.