The New Year is a good time for PR professionals to shed some old habits and adopt new ones, but what separates the PR amateurs from the experts? Here are some habits – old and new – for the most successful PR agency people we know.
They stretch. Specialization can be an agency attribute and a strong professional advantage, but one of the joys of agency life is the variety of clients one may be called upon to counsel. An outlier client or extracurricular project can be a wonderful exercise for a senior professional or an inspiring challenge for a novice. The true PR masters don’t just visit a company website or learn some perfunctory lingo, they interview subject-matter experts, plunge into analyst reports, and basically go beyond page three of a Google search. Stretching, after all, helps keep muscles toned.
They consume a varied (content) diet. The more we read, the better we write, period. What improves writing craft isn’t just skimming headlines or social posts, but breaking into different genres. We like literary or film criticism (no one provides better visual descriptions than a critic.) And never neglect op-eds, which are excellent for advocacy, not to mention economy of language, or biographies, which usually feature top-notch storytelling. For those who are too text-oriented, a diet of image-based content for a month will produce a wonderful change in perspective.
They do something scary. Once the client-agency relationship is solid and secure, a bit of calculated risk-taking with a creative idea or new direction can open doors. Sometimes the idea is so good that one’s “PR gut” kicks in and going for it pays off. We convinced a client to conduct an online petition to champion a major U.S. government policy change. We knew we would never receive the signatures necessary to take our case up the government chain but felt the strategy helped position the client as an advocate for a worthy (and newsworthy) cause. However, the client feared some kind of press blowback for a petition that didn’t draw millions of signatures. None materialized, and in fact media covered the effort in creative and positive ways.
They build a “Board of Experts.” “A man doesn’t know what he knows until he knows what he doesn’t know,” said the late Laurence J. Peter. Truly savvy PR people never let show what they don’t know, because we’re always learning. The smart strategy is to find and “collect” subject matter experts from all sectors to fill in knowledge gaps. These experts become invaluable when developing questions for a potential client in a new industry, coming up with a fresh topic for content, or approaching unfamiliar media.
They step it up. In a retainer relationship, the meter is always running, and an agency is only as good as their most recent accomplishment. When a client stalls on feedback or editing or approval, it’s easy to move on to the next project and feel “off the hook.” But PR stars consider patience overrated; after all, clients hire us in part because we’re not immersed in the corporate bureaucracy and our bias is toward action. Pull out fresh tactics, pull in a colleague, or push forward and make something happen in 2015.