In today's market, the role of the public relations expert has become complicated.
Back in the day, when I first started out as a journalist, we would often steer away from PRs who were too vague in their niche. Nowadays, it is almost essential, that public relations specialists should be flexible enough to dip into a wider skill set.
So, what do you need to master if you want to stay ahead of the pack as a PR in 2021? There are still, a handful of core talents you need, yet at the same time, don't ditch those past jobs skills just yet. They will come in handy, however, what I will share with you today is a little more personal.
So, in today's post, we will together, tackle those core attributes every sharp PR should have and why its essential to be a personality guru more than ever.
1. Networking the beast, albeit virtually...
Despite the fact that we have all been held hostage in our homes for last year, networking has still been the essential. Not for job hunting or even scouting for clients and journalists, but building up a base of possible contractors and contacts in complimentary niches.
As a Publicist for an agency, I am always on the look out for people who can I work with. Digital marketers, sales people, business development managers, copy writers and graphic designers are often top of my list for people I am keen to network with. I look for talents I admire, those who are clever, and more importantly, those who are likable.
For preference, I tend to go to for free networking events, giving the paid and subscription ones a wide berth. I don't have anything against them, but I find the best way to pick up good working contacts is to move around freely between groups. The best contacts I have found, worked with on projects and even referred to, to other PRs have all been through free groups.
Best place to find networking groups? There are two places I tend to go, the first is LinkedIN but these can often be pricey, and the free ones can be top heavy with literally thousands of people attending.
My favourite is Eventbrite where you can glide seamlessly through the free ones, filtering them down to location, industry and so on. It's even the best place to find free classes and webinars to keep your keeps up to date.
2. The writing is on the wall, in the cupboard, in the wardrobe...
Like any talent, you have to practice and when it comes to your copy writing skills, what better way than to write, write, write as much as you can bare.
Years ago, before I became a journalist, I wrote, lots. As a child, I would write countless stories, poems, songs, often in one afternoon. I was keen on advertising even when I was at primary school and would often make up pop band names so I could make a poster with colours and creative words.
I wrote my first magazine at the age of 8 (wish I had kept it) but even when I eventually left college and joined the NHS, I was still sitting in my London flat after shifts, writing books and articles for friends and family, or sometimes, no one at all. I even took a writing course and started going to night school. I became obsessed. Eventually, when I did become a journalist, I was able to shine almost immediately, which would have taken me a lot longer had I not been a writing nut.
In my editor's eye's I could do no wrong. My copy was always brilliant (so he told me) but I didn't stop there. As an Editor in Chief years later, I still made sure I wrote solidly on and off copy. I still reported despite having a team of journos around me, I worked the ground alongside them, wrote articles, conducted interviews, developed features, wrote blogs (some of which are still out there - The Sound Suite Cocoon, for example, now decades old.)
In short, you have to write and lots. Start a blog, submit articles to digital publications, message boards, databases and the like. Get your voice heard through the medium of words. It will sharpen your writing skills, your wit (very important) and your ability to communicate. It soothes any future panics over writers block when tasked to write an article for a client or website copy.
The key thing is to keep a database of everything you've written. Don't rely on the fact that its on a blog somewhere, keep it on a hard drive too. Then you have an archive of material that can be worked when you need it.
3. Life's a pitch, so start with selling yourself
The best salespeople on the planet are the best at selling themselves. It makes sense if you think about it. To sell a product, you have to 'own' it, and by that I mean, you have to believe in your capabilities as a person first before you can flog snow to an Eskimo.
Practice mixing with random people at networking events, standing in a shop queue or chatting to the retail assistant the next time you're in town. You don't have to have an agenda. I often sent myself a task to talk to people, for no apparent reason, a bit like a game. If I'm out shopping for example, I will set myself the target of talking to 3 people in the next two hours. It doesn't have to be a big deal, and you're certainly not aiming to get invited round for tea and cake (although that has happened to me on a couple of occasions.) Just practicing passing the time of day is a good start. It's a great way to build your skills if talking to people frightens the life out of you.
If you are a seasoned networker (and when I first started out, networking events were long boozy lunches in private banks at which I often spent pinned against a wall by a sweaty accountant) then you will be comfortable enough in your own pitch, but that doesn't mean to say you can hang up your networking boots and rest easy.
Networking is an art that needs to be nurtured even when you're a master. Lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 have not helped people with their levels self confidence and many of us have lost the self assuredness to get out there again. Go easy on yourself. Getting back in the saddle might be a difficult process so start small if you think you need to.
4. Become a sleuth of the parish
Much of the daily grind of PR (and this has probably increased over the last year) has morphed into detective work. The playing field of public relations has lost it's smooth golf course terrain over recent times, and become more like a Middle Eastern mine field over which only a sturdy Princess would consider walking.
The horizons aren't as straight forward as they used to be. Now with the PR competition increasing and the weather looking more like San Francisco fog in August, PRs need to be equipping themselves with a trench coat and a magnifying glass if they are find media opportunities to elbow in their clients and businesses.
Every day in the PR world is different. Whether you are working for an agency or in-house, you will be answering in-bound journo requests while trying to keep cool and calm (this is often the norm in high profile) each day will be unique. I took to this aspect of PR life easily and largely put that down to almost a decade working for Surrey Ambulance Service where you never could have predicted one single shift. It keeps you sharp and focused and alert for anything.
There is much investigation work in PR, but instead of keeping your ears and eyes to the trail of a suspected criminal, you will be on the look out for opportunity balanced out with a healthy awareness of risk. I knew I was doing to the right job many years ago when a couple of my clients at the time gave me the nickname of Scout. I have used it over the years as a benchmark. Surprisingly enough, the same nickname has come up again with a more recent client which has been quietly pleasing.
Be on the look out for all avenues of opportunity and never stop looking. Look at every journo request, every new publication on your radar, every new idea, every advert and every marketing campaign you see on the TV, in print or just while your out and about. Keep your eyes open and your mind wide and hunt possibilities. They are there, you just need to train your senses and feelers to pick up more information around you (and you do that by dabbling in a bit of psychology - I recommend starting off with watching a few old Bob Proctor and Dr David Snyder videos on YouTube. Watch their presentations, it will help train your mind to looking out for new ideas and opportunities.) Not only will you pick up tips on how your mind works, you will get a better understanding of how everyone else works around you. They will even help you hone your presentation and communication skills too. Double whammy.
5. Become Danny Kaye Impressionist
The younger generation will immediately scratch their heads at trying to figure out who Danny Kaye is, but before I lose you to a Wikipedia trail, from which you are not likely to return, I shall explain:
Danny Kaye was born David Daniel Kaminsky in New York on the 18th of January, 1911. He an actor, entertainer, singer and first ambassador at large for UNICEF, receiving many honours for his work for charity before passing away at the age of 76 on the 3rd of March 1987.
Danny Kaye played many roles in his life. He made people laugh, listen, be entertained and gave us countless films and stand up theatre shows throughout his long career, but above all, he was a storyteller, showcasing his incredible skill in the 1952 film, Hans Christian Andersen, in which he played the title role.
During his incredible long run of one man West End shows in London during the Sixties, he would sit on the edge of the stage and tell stories. Sometimes about his life, his work but above all, he would spin a long yarn of wonder, starting off as small tale but winding into a parable, a song or a moral. His ability to capture the attention of a packed out audience, each completely at the mercy of his tale, was unique.
Many people have come and gone since him, often clever at holding an audience tight their creative grip, but often playing characters using only the clever manipulation of a script. Yet, none as enchanting or as engaging as Danny Kaye who simply talked, being himself, no script, no character. Just authenticity in every mutter.
So what has an actor from the golden era of stage and film got to do with public relations? Well, in short, the best PRs are storytellers, like Danny Kaye, be a Pied Piper dancing your crowd to the tune of your flute. The more genuine, heartfelt and authentic you can be, the better your chances of building that all important sound reputation and trust with your audience. #BeMoreDannyKaye
When I started writing this blog post for you, I had one aim in mind: to give you specific skill pointers which I feel, in my profession are 'musts' for the budding PR, yet what I actually penned, was more left of centre, and probably lot more personal.
There are a whole host more skills every PR should master - social media being the first on the list, yet there are personal skills you must work on first if you're going to truly be a magician of public relations. All the digital marketing and PR qualifications in the world aren't going to mean a dime if you haven't got the gift of the gab in a tight situation to go with it.
Work on your relationships, your friendships. Be helpful, learn how to listen properly and hear what you hear, not what you think you heard. All these things will make you likeable, and often, that's half the battle.
That's what makes brilliant PRs so good at their job.
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