We in the PR agency business talk a great deal about “talent,” and with good reason. It’s what we’re selling. And in my mind there’s a nature vs. nurture debate about what makes a talented PR practitioner, particularly in the agency environment.
So, are PR stars born or made? Are they great at what they do because they’ve gained experience, or do successful communicators have essential qualities that enable success?
Reading The Guardian‘s excellent interview with Brendan Paddy of the Disasters Emergency Committee about what it takes to be a Director of Communications made me think again about what makes a top PR professional. Paddy’s comments about experience being more important than technical qualifications are logical, but it’s hard to separate the respective influences of experience and native ability.
As a practitioner, I tend to favor experience as I, um, gain more of it, but there are innate skills – some overlooked – that differentiate the very best PR people I’ve known. Here are a few of them.
Analytical skills. It’s impossible to sum up it up in a word, but it’s the ability to cut through complexity, extraneous detail, or bureaucratic process to identify and articulate the heart of a great story. This takes a blend of objectivity, analysis, and raw storytelling talent. If you can make the complex simple, while being faithful to its core, you can write your own ticket in many aspects of PR and positioning, particularly in technology communications.
Writing ability. Yes, we’ve entered the age of visual communications, but clear, solid writing is still the key to persuasion and a critical skill in our business. Here’s my case for why. Personally I think it’s tough to learn how to write well if you lack the foundation, so I classify it as an innate ability, but there are many who disagree.
Perseverance. Let’s face it, we encounter a great deal of rejection in PR, particularly in media relations and new business development. The ability to keep on going and focus on the one interaction in 50 that was positive instead of the 49 discouraging ones is a gift in this business and in many others.
Resourcefulness. This quality is an asset in any profession, but it’s critical in the agency environment. I’ve sometimes thought there are two kinds of personalities: those whose gut response to a problem is to seek advice from a manager (or client), and those who will reflexively look at creative solutions before seeking advice. Of course, resourcefulness is learned on the job, because it IS our job, but the PR superstars I’ve known have had it in great measure.
Curiosity. This one’s underrated in my book. Some of the best practitioners I’ve hired have a journalist’s native curiosity about just about anything, from how new technology works to a product’s supply or distribution chain. It’s irreplaceable as a personality trait not just because it drives them to learn, know, and ultimately do more for clients, but because it makes doing it less like homework and more like joyful discovery.