It’s a competitive field – no doubt about it. Beyond just growing your network, creating a job search (or professional development) strategy and being an excellent communicator, what tried-and-true skills will help you be highly successful in a PR career?
Here’s my best advice, informed by my experience: While this isn’t a comprehensive list of tips, these are four (sometimes less obvious) principles that will help you distinguish yourself in this field.
1. Identify a handful of people who have the job you want.
As a starting point, jot down a list of people you admire in the industry or search specific job titles on LinkedIn, such as “senior account director” or “vice president of marketing,” and see who pops up.
Once you have your shortlist compiled, get informed about what it takes to have that job title. This homework pushes you to learn, explore, benchmark and take steps forward.
Pro Tip: Review these folks’ training, education and experience. See what professional groups they’re part of and what conferences they attend. Do they have a master’s degree or an accreditation in public relations (APR)? What does their career path look like - have they been at their current company for many years or have they had several positions?
2. Practice keeping your cool.
Mastering the ability to stay calm and instill confidence in your client, organization and/or stakeholders is no easy feat. But, if you commit to practicing how to keep your cool during high-stress situations, that skill will serve you well in your career.
In a 2019 CareerCast study, research showed that “broadcaster,” “event coordinator,” “news reporter” and “public relations executive” were among the Top 10 most stressful jobs – not far behind professions like police officer and airline pilot. That’s because big announcements, deadlines, crises, product recalls, natural disasters, a changing media landscape and pressure to place stories and demonstrate results – can come with big consequences if not executed well. How you manage communication for your brand or client – what you do and say – matters. It can impact people’s lives, the bottom line and everything in between.
In my nearly 15 years in the industry, I’ve held all four of those communications-related positions that ranked as most-stressful jobs in the CareerCast study. During challenging moments, I’ve learned how to take a step back, breathe and consider all the options before reacting. And, that’s led to me gaining more responsibilities and securing higher salaries.
Pro Tip: Crisis communications planning exercises will require you to predict different situations, prepare for them and practice them through mock crises and training. The skills you hone through this kind of practice will carry over into other fundamental aspects of your job.
3. Find at least three mentors who will expand your thinking and introduce you to new contacts.
These are people who help open more doors of possibility. Mentors often see where we need to improve when we cannot.
The best mentors will pose questions for you to think about and ask you to come back with answers later: What do you most enjoy about your current job ? Do you want a deep understanding of one brand and its assets, or would you like to work with a wide range of clients who make up different sizes and industries ? What skills would you like to develop?
There are times you’ll learn and apply things from your mentors that helped them succeed in their careers, and other times you’ll benefit from their difficult lessons learned (i.e., things they didn’t do but wish they would have done). The best mentors are responsive. They make time to answer your questions and provide guidance, despite the challenging demands of their job and limited time.
Pro Tip: When it comes to a mentor(s), find someone you want to be like and reach out to them. Remember that it doesn’t have to be someone older than you with more overall experience either – they just need to have a skill that you wish to learn.
4. Crave feedback and constructive criticism.
You’re not going to be an expert right away. There’s always room for improvement, so never stop learning and practicing your craft of communication.
The truth that comes with feedback may hurt for a bit, but the pain of missed opportunities will last much longer when you simply go through the motions without getting better. Be willing to ask how you could’ve improved the results of a campaign, a public speaking engagement or a communications effort. Then, listen to what trusted advisors tell you.
Researcher and Storyteller Brene Brown says, “Be brave enough to suck at something new.” If you’re like me, I hate sucking at anything. That’s why I don’t ski. But, you can bet I’d give the slopes a go if that was something I aspired to be good at.
When I started out in television news, I was a one-man-band (meaning you’re responsible for shooting, writing, editing and reporting the news story). My shooting and editing skills lacked, and I was overwhelmed by all the buttons and expensive technology. However, after much constructive criticism and practice over time – I improved tremendously, and it helped me become a better reporter.
Step out of your comfort zone and give that “thing” – whatever it is – a shot. You will get better and possibly amazing if you commit to it.
Pro Tip: You send a draft of the blog post you’re working on to your boss for feedback. She responds in tracked changes, making substantial edits to the piece. Did you bury the lede? Did it not strike the right tone? Be sure to save your original draft and your boss’ draft so that next time you put pen to paper, you can closely compare the two versions and apply that focused lens as you write.
These fundamental truths are a roadmap ensuring your PR career doesn’t become stagnant. The bottom line is – to get ahead in PR, grab the reins and get started.
Article submitted by IMC alumna Bridgette Borst Ombres, Principal at The Commsultant and VP of Communications & Strategic Partnerships at A2U.
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