Are public relations professionals born – or are they made? Well, maybe it’s a little bit of both. Every year, communications and PR majors graduate from college and move into entry-level positions at public relations firms across the country. Many of these young professionals knew from the start that communications was the path for them and took the necessary steps to pursue that calling. Others (who might have been art or philosophy majors) headed down different paths after school and then found that their skills led them to “fall into” a job in PR.
It doesn’t matter so much how you get there, but if you’re considering a career in PR, there are certain questions you should ask before diving in. First, “What is public relations? Is it the same as advertising?” (This a question I addressed in a previous blog, and definitely something you’ll want to understand). Next, “What makes an exceptional PR pro, and do I have what it takes?” Well, there are certain things you’ll need to know and particular personal skills you’ll need to have (or cultivate) in order to be successful in the industry. Here are 5 of them:
You’ve got to be a people person
If you’re naturally introverted (and I mean really introverted), this might not be the career for you. True, there are plenty of positions for writers, designers and even back office where your exposure to people might be more limited. But even then, you’ll be surrounded by boisterous communications specialists, who will no doubt invade your space and not be quiet about it. In addition, you’re bound to have challenging clients along the way, and if you’ve got a natural affinity for others and a collaborative nature, you’ll be at an advantage.
Focus on client service
The customer is always right, right? Well…not always. Of course, your focus must be on delivering results for your clients if you’re going to be in PR, but you’ve also got to be able to tell truth to power and disagree politely when you feel things are moving in the wrong direction. After all, you’ve been hired to render a service and be a partner. If you’re going to be of any use as a public relations advisor, it’s crucial that you not simply be a “yes” person and know the right time to politely disagree. Offer your best advice and proactive solutions that will garner the best results for your clients – even if they disagree with you.
Reporters and PR pros need each other. And in a perfect world, the relationship would be a smooth exchange of relevant information, bolstered by mutual respect. Well, the world isn’t perfect, and you’re certain to slip up from time to time. But even if there are mishaps along the way, you’ve got to do your best to be helpful to your most important industry partner. Be respectful. Do your research. The time you spend will be well worth what you get in return.
Not only do you have clients, but you also have a job. You didn’t forget, did you? Better not! Communication doesn’t stop with clients. In an industry rife with long hours, competing deadlines and multiple clients, you’ve got to make sure you’re paying attention to your “local” responsibilities and the people who pay you. Be pleasant. Send updates. Do your best to meet deadlines and honor your commitments to your colleagues and supervisors. It’s the right thing to do.
Manage your own reputation, along with your client’s
Whether you’re reaching out to the media or making a business connection at a networking event, you’ve got to manage and protect your own reputation. This is true in any business, but it’s particularly true in public relations – a field where you are always thinking about the needs of your client, but maybe not yourself. Act with integrity. You’ve got to be trusted by media and clients alike, so be honest and transparent at all times.
Of course, not all of this will come naturally to any one person, and you’ll quickly find the areas where you may excel, as well as those that might need improvement. However, it’s important to keep each of these skills in mind when considering a PR career, because each is guaranteed to come into play at one time or another. So, what do you think? Do you have what it takes?