When starting out, I quickly realised that all the study and theory was great, but often what matters most is an appreciation for people as individuals!
It’s incredibly simple when you think about it, but it’s helped my career massively.
With that in mind - if you're new to the business - here are the 3 best things (in my humble opinion) that you can do right now...
1) * Make lives easier *
Bosses, clients and coworkers are human (most are anyway). They have their own lives, stresses and worries. I figured out pretty early on that as much as they’re representatives for organisations, they’re also individuals.
If you’re making lives easier, you’re delivering value. You’re also often learning and acquiring skills.
For example; if your manager is busy organising an event, offering to pick up even a small part not only shows eagerness to help but demonstrates self confidence in embracing new challenges and an eagerness to help make things happen. Some of the best opportunities I’ve had were a result of doing this. Sometimes the tasks were technically ‘above my pay-grade’ but in times of necessity I was able get involved and before I knew it, I’d acquired a new skill, along with the gratitude of colleagues!
If it’s routine and you’re likely to end up being pulled in to help anyway, why not get ahead and be seen to volunteer?
This should not be confused with ‘sucking up’. We’re not talking about offering to collect laundry or anything outside of work. We’re talking about helping make professional lives easier. It’s also not about volunteering for anything and everything. But when there are moments of pressure, when you can see someone struggling, that is where your help will be most felt, remembered and - in time - rewarded. When you’re most needed is when people most realise your value.
If you feel confident that you can help make something happen and help those in need, go for it! When you get to the next level, you’ll realise just how much you value those people. And to be honest, you’ll probably prefer to see someone try, even if they don’t succeed at first, than to not try at all!
2) * Make it as easy as possible for people to say ‘yes’ *
Making it easy for people to say ‘yes’ relates to seeing people as individuals.
It's likely that at some point you'll be involved in media relations - nowhere is this more applicable.
Journalists are time poor and likely bombarded by your PR brethren on an hourly basis. If you can make it easy for them to accept what you’re proposing, you can do it anywhere.
It makes me shudder but there are people who send out blanket emails about a client and wait for coverage or replies (explaining how it might be made relevant to them) to come rolling in. Those replies will never come.
So, how do you make it ‘easy’? To illustrate the point here; if your client has just launched a new service, for example offering specialist career advice (to use this blog as an example) and you're handed a poor brief of “getting some attention for it” you’re going to have to get targeted and creative.
If you find a target (Guardian for example), narrow it down (Guardian Careers section) and find the individual (look for the editor of that specific section). Before pitching anything, check the style of previous posts, check who has contributed before: what kind of job titles do they have? What kind of companies do they work for? Check how long posts normally are. Check which ones have had the most shares (to judge what topics are resonating with readers).
Then make it as easy as possible for the person you’re pitching to to say ‘yes’ to what you’re offering.
For example, you could pitch an idea or two and offer to have a X word draft pulled together (demonstrating you’ve done your homework on word count, topic and style and showing it’s an original and exclusive piece). Offer to send them a piece to review (at this stage they’re not agreeing to publish, only to look over). If your client already has a following or a way of getting eyeballs on the piece, mention this too. It’s all about demonstrating mutual benefit. Remove any barriers to success before they arise and show that you can help, rather than that you just want to use their site to promote a client.
It’s not unreasonable to expect a proper reply but the reality is that expecting people to write or think about a reply beyond “yes” only decreases the chances that they'll make that time and effort investment.
This applies across all aspects of the job. If you want to get your bosses to agree to something, make it easy for them to do so. Likewise, over time you’ll see the same works when pitching for new business and getting sign-off on ideas.
Do the hard work. Take away the risk. Make it easy!
3) * Think of solutions rather than problems *
This one I have my mum to thank for.
Theory and practice are often two very different things. Things will nearly always get in the way of the perfect case scenario. Be it budget, time or even just the flawed beings that are humans.
It is very easy to criticise and spot problems. We’re superb at it in fact! And as a species it has allowed us to thrive and survive for millions of years. But it’s often our ability to overcome said problems that has lead to our greatest achievements.
This links in with the previous two points. In the day-to-day of PR, things are very rarely perfect. Each and every day there will be issues to overcome. They can come in the form of a campaign not going to plan, a delay, a slip-up that’s not your fault, it can be anything. But those that come up with solutions, or at least are seen to be trying to find solutions, are gold-dust.
For example, there will likely to be times when things are handed to you that are unworkable in their current form. It shouldn’t happen of course but the reality is that it does, regularly. That's life and often no one's fault. As someone starting out, you’re perfectly in your right to point this out, but it's better to provide an alternative approach at the same time.
If you’re handed a press release announcing your client has won a niche data centre efficiency award (for example), along with an expectation of achieving media coverage off the back of it, you can do one of a few things. You can say you don’t think it will work and that’s it. You can put time and effort into getting journalists to look at it (showing your spirit and at least getting feedback to reaffirm your suspicion). Or, having confirmed your concerns, you can think about how you might get something out of it. Perhaps you could ‘make it easy’ for a techy publication to accept a byline on behalf of the client on “How to achieve DC best practice” and run it past a journalist. If you get the go-ahead, you have a solution to present back to management. Saying “in its current form journalists aren’t going for it because XYZ, however I think if we reposition slightly that I may have interest from…” is so much better that “there is simple no interest”.
Of course, this should never be confused with being a ‘yes man/woman’. And sometimes, there may simply not be a solution within your experience or control. But most of the time there will be things that can be done or at least suggested. If you can’t think of a solution, it’s still better to point out your reservations than to nod along into failure.
You’ll likely to hear a lot about ‘setting expectations’, which is part of not letting others get carried away with what they want to happen, opposed to what is actually likely happen. This is not always easy to do when you’re starting out - often you won’t know what will work or not until you try - but you'll learn it over time.
As I worked my way up a little, it was surprising easy to spot the people you just knew were going to go far in PR, even in their first few weeks on the job!
All in all, this is about working with humans. It’s very easy to be blinded by brands and a focus on the organisations that people represent, but it's all about individuals!
Focus on the people. Personal goals are often linked to those of the overall organisation anyway. There are exceptions to every rule of course, but in the whole, by thinking as people as individuals, you're likely to go far in PR!