Which of the six types of public relations professional are you?

The six types of PR professionals are: leaders, inspirers, creatives, synthesisers, galvanisers and project managers. Which one are you!?

Of course, you may be more than one simultaneously (or think you are…). And to some degree, the typology above will be reflective of your career journey. Equally, however, I’ve known practitioners straight out of university in their early 20s to, indubitably, be leaders and inspirers. And on different days of the week and, indeed, different times in a single day we may need to wear different hat ‘types’.

At our core, however, I’m interested to hear what you think about the types I have identified, what characterises these types and what I have missed out on, got wrong and, hopefully in some cases at least, got right! Please comment at the end of the post!

Leaders in PR – showing us the way

Clearly, leaders lead through their behaviour, not what they say or how they say they’ll act (e.g. walking the talk). Otherwise, in my books, they aren’t really a leader.

A grandiose title and being in charge of lots of employees doesn’t bestow leadership upon a person, at least not in the ideal (which sounds unrealistic but I’m actually being absolutely pragmatic, as walking the talk is about the most pragmatic thing to achieve results a leader can undertake) and useful sense I am concerned with.

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One of the most powerful characteristics of a leader is that they can be trusted. They follow through on what they say they will follow through with and they treat people with respect and, where appropriate, confidentiality. This trust will be founded, hopefully, on the fact they actually care about those around them – about them as people as well as the nature and quality of their work.

Leaders will always give public credit to those who they collaborate with and not claim undue, or unbalanced, credit for themselves. Sharing this credit and recognising others empowers people. And it reflects well on the person who shares this credit.

Conversely, the leader will protect those who report to them, standing up for them as appropriate in difficult situations.

Inspirers: the wings of an eagle

Leadership, obviously, will inspire people. As will those who are creative and produce stellar business outcomes. As will those who are effective collaborators.

Perhaps inspiring others is an inherent quality of truly effective leadership. But I think it’s worth calling out as being a particular type, too, as so often our activities outside of work and the way we deal with these challenges can inspire those who know us, whether they are colleagues or not.

The way we behave, therefore, just like with leadership, is the ‘platform’ on/through which we inspire people.

In a professional context, one formidable way of inspiring people is by seeking to achieve, and actually achieving excellence. These are two separate things. In many cases, the seeking is vastly more important than the destination. This restless, relentless striving to achieve the best we can be is where we exhibit what sort of person we are.

The only fail is failing to try, I tell the boys I coach at football – and it is equally applicable in the professional world of public relations and business.

Creatives – at the heart of PR

Well, where would we be in public relations without the creative types! Sure, all of us are capable enough to come up with the odd good idea, but there are those who are absolutely characterised by this quality. And they definitely do not always seek to lead or be the big boss.

I’ve seen this quality manifest itself time and again in the PR agency environment. It is an absolute winner as a characteristic to have in this context as new business pitches are won and lost on the creative dimension. (I see this as a far more critical element in winning business than agency reputation or rigour.)

And if you’re in an agency which doesn’t win new business, in turn the agency will fail and you’ll be out of a job.

It’s a quality I particularly value in in-house practitioners, too, but it doesn’t materialise in this context as often, at least in my extensive experience. In-house practitioners can be mechanics, doers, project managers etc and do this admirably and successfully, without necessarily needing to be particularly creative.

It would be expected, however, that even the most plebeian meat and potatoes type (another type?!) of PR pros will add some creative value to, at least, the process of undertaking the work, if not the nature of the actual project/task itself. It may not be as glamourous as the ‘big idea’, but innovation in how to actually get the job done can add much value, including saving time = saving money.

Which leads us neatly to….

Synthesisers – the hidden geniuses of PR

Maybe I should call this type the ‘creative synthesiser’, as that’s what I mean. Synthesisers take creativity from whatever sources input ideas into a project/topic/etc and value-add through two means:

  • Coalesce the divergent ideas into a seamless, integrated whole which takes the best out of each contributory shard to produce an holistic masterpiece
  • Value-add through building on the creativity which has been offered, adding new ideas and coming up with further, compounding (‘viral’, if you like) notions which, once again, help devise an holistic masterpiece.

This is an underestimated type of genius, in my view, and is in many cases founded on an ability to collaborate effectively and understand the genesis of many of the ideas which have been suggested. That way, going to the roots of the various creative ‘shards’, our synthesiser protagonist has access to the mother lode of inspiration at the core of the ideas.

Of course, as we can be a superficial lot, sometimes understanding the genesis is entirely unnecessary. It could be the creativity is resulting in a fabulous launch party and its the glitz, fizz and absolute fabulousness of it all which prompted the compelling value-adding and its integration into an holistic masterpiece.

But enough about me.

Galvanisers

When putting together this dichotomy, I pondered the entrepreneur as a distinct type. But then I decided it is perhaps this is similar enough to the galvaniser to group them together.

I think every PR practitioner needs to be entrepreneurial to some extent, not only those who work in mid to higher levels of PR agencies or in in-house leadership roles (though I recognise you could cogently argue the case for inspirers being in the same boat).

And I think there are different enough qualities between the galvaniser and the project manager to make it worthwhile flagging both as unique types.

The galvaniser recognises the creativity, sees the opportunity, then takes a stand to pull all the potentially wayward strands together. It’s an important role. And it is one which good managers (aka leaders in another guise) are experts at.

Project managers

Project managers make sure the job gets done. It takes rigour, intelligence, people skills and discipline. Creativity is not necessary, but without these PM types we’d be lost. We all need to be a project manager at times, but to tell the truth I wouldn’t particularly fancy to be categorised as one myself.

I’m afraid my ambitions are greater than this. So accuse me of being hubristic, then, as in this case I may well be guilty as charged.

What specific ‘types’ of PR practitioners have I missed or inappropriately called out as a specific type? Do you have examples of how the types noted have manifested themselves in your career?

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Transforming ugly duckling business tasks into career-advancing swans

We’ve all been called into an ugly duckling project where our advice is being sought. We look at it, tilt our heads, give the thing a good squint and just go: what the hell am I doing here!? But a seemingly obscure, arcane or only tangentially relevant business task provides an opportunity for learning, career advancement and reputation enhancement: a beautiful swan indeed.

The professional communication disciplines (communication management, public relations, stakeholder relations, marketing communication et al and ad nauseum) are no different than any other discipline (e.g. accounting, law) in this respect. In fact, due to there being such a general lack of understanding of professional communication disciplines such as PR, it wouldn’t surprise me if we are called into projects where we can add little value more often than other professions.

And as much as it is tempting to ‘participate’ in these projects with little enthusiasm and minimal effort, especially where it is clear the value we can offer is either negligible or will not manifest itself until a long way down the path of the project’s evolution, that is not an approach I espouse taking.

Opportunity for learning

One of the great delights in participating in projects which seem alien or irrelevant to our day-to-day activities is they provide an opportunity to learn. I would expect all communication professionals to be naturally curious and have a desire to learn. Without these characteristics, I don’t see how we can reach our potential as professionals.

Reputation enhancement

Participating in projects based on topics or fields we are unfamiliar with almost certainly means we are interacting and building relationships with people we have not met and/or undertaken business with. By visibly adding value to the project and by being an enthusiastic, conscientious participant our reputation will be enhanced.

The value we add will help build up our capability to influence approaches and outcomes not just in the project at hand but, also, through other projects. Our influence will definitely not be contained to the single project team as its participants have connections to other parts of the business, as will the project itself. The power of word of mouth…..

Career advancement

The information we learn can have benefits in opening up new areas of expertise for our careers. If participating in an accounting or IT-specific project, for instance, knowledge gained through this project could provide the foundation for a career change into practicing comms within those industries.

Participating in projects could also lead to sufficient knowledge in a particular field being generated to allow the comms professional to leap up into a higher management level (and not necessarily comms-specific). This can occur based on the relationships built, the project management experience gained and the expertise in certain fields accrued.

You really do never know where next steps can lead.

Relationships are a critical conduit in career advancement, as is proving you can add value to a process and help achieve an excellent outcome. If you are not an active and enthusiastic participant in the ‘ugly duckling’ projects, then this may well be an opportunity lost – and that potential career advancement in the form of a beautiful swan could be sailing blithely by you as you impotently wonder why you are stuck in the muddy rut.

Pulling the pin on the ‘ugly duckling’

In some ways, this post could be read as another example of PR spin. The question, you may ask, is still unanswered: what if it really is impossible for the communication professional to add value to this project? It’s all well and good, you may say, to try to achieve the three outcomes noted above, but you are not adding any value to the process.

There are three responses to this I can think of.

Firstly, if the project team continues to want you to participate in the project as it evolves, there is likely to be a reason for this. Perhaps, without even realising it, you are in fact adding value to the process. This will only occur if you are engaged to an acceptable degree in it, however. Being purely a spectator in what is occurring will contribute nothing.

By asking questions (no matter how ‘stupid’ you may think they are – the only stupid question is the one not being asked, I recall hearing…) is providing a very valuable and typically PR contribution:

  • you are challenging assumptions
  • you are challenging accepted orthodoxies
  • you are, in fact, challenging the potential of groupthink occurring which, as has been proven time and time again, is a good thing. Call it the emperor’s new clothes approach, if you like.

Sometimes, what seems obvious to you can be lost to those deeply immersed in the topic. One of the best ways of adding rigour to the process and quality to the end result is to continually question assumptions.

Conversely, and this is the second of my answers, the communication professional is typically a great source of enthusiasm for excellent and innovative approaches and what will be likely outcomes. As a default, we tend to be half-glass full professionals. And that in itself is a highly valued commodity in what can sometimes be a jaded business environment.

Who can blame non-communication business disciplines for wanting to have some of this magic mojo!

Thirdly, and here I end the post on a downer, you may well be right, there is no point in being in this room with these people or being part of this project. If that is the case, you are going to need an acceptable rationale for suggesting you are not included in the team. You have been asked to join the team, presumably, for a good reason. Look hard at that reason and identify whether it really does hold up under scrutiny.

Before you jump, however, seek counsel from someone you respect, someone who will keep your conversation confidential.

Often, it all comes down to ROI. All of us only have so much time. The business is paying for this time. Is this time you are contributing offering the best return on investment for the business based on all your other responsibilities? We all need to prioritise. And often we need to be ruthless about it, too.

So what’s your approach going to be to this ugly duckling? Is it a swan in gestation – or not?

Have you been involved in projects where you have been unable to offer any value? Did you tolerate it or resign from the project? How have you managed to offer value to these projects and what has been your mindset in the involvement – with tolerance and enthusiasm being just two options?

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Kids football coaching achieves excellence in PR

Basic principles of talent in public relations are that it is not innate, it takes years of deep practice to become excellent and inherent, sustained motivation is vital.  Leadership must praise effort not talent, emphasise that abilities can be transformed through application and challenges are learning opportunities, not threats.

Coaching kids at football

PR guy in action as kids football coach!

Perhaps most importantly, “failure is a great opportunity for improvement”. To which I would add: the only fail is failing to give it a go.

If you’re wondering which PR textbook this came from, then you’ll be wondering for a while. These assertions come from a Football Federation Australia kids coaching resource.  Practicing public relations is not that much different to coaching kids at football, it seems! Mind you, I’ve written previously on the analogousness between mentoring and teaching children at sport and the business environment of PR.

There is not much point in recognising the truth in some of the points above, however, unless they are put in practice. And this is where leadership must manifest itself. It is about doing, not preaching; about being the change, not handing out instruction books on it.

The principles of excellence in PR

Scientific research has identified the following:

  • While geniuses (Messi being the one who comes to mind most immediately) do very rarely come along, most outstanding performers don’t inherit special genes from birth
  • All world class performers have a history of deep practice
  • No excellent performer has reached their pinnacle without possessing intrinsic and sustained motivation.

It has been asserted by one scientist it takes 10,000 hours – or ten years – of practice to reach a level of excellence in any field. Yes, the quality of that practice is imperative, but informal or ‘non-professional’ forms of practice (e.g. kicking the ball around with your dad/son in the backyard, writing important emails) can be just as important as formal practice.

I think writing posts for this blog is an example of informal practice:

  • It prompts me to think more deeply about aspects of my professional than I might otherwise have done
  • It is clearly writing – the single most important skill in public relations – practice
  • I would like to think it helps me in becoming a better leader as I have to weigh up arguments supporting or dissenting against different perspectives.

Without excellent leadership, public relations is ineffective

Leadership is a vitally important aspect of many of the points raised above:

  • If the quality of practice is important, then we need excellent leaders to make sure we are undertaking work which is effective, imaginative and delivers outcomes in line with business strategies and organisational positioning
  • The only way practitioners get a chance to really develop and to understand their capabilities, is to be given opportunities to stretch themselves. If they fail – partially or wholly – in the process then they have had the best learning opportunity they could ever have had. This is dependant, of course, on being given the support to help them improve and being provided with a safety net (through the leader)
  • Praising effort should always come before praising talent. Talent is meaningless unless it is put to good use. It cannot be put to good use without effort. Talent will last only so long, then it will wither without effort and application. It’s a bit like the tortoise and hare – we know who one that duel.

Another reason for praising effort over talent is that if effort is perceived as being second best then the majority of people are at risk of feeling marginalised and disrespected. This is because most of us rely on effort to achieve. And if the majority are left to languish in the shadows of praise prioritised towards the talented, then the majority will not be incentivised to achieve.

Motivation is vital to help achieve excellence. And I’m not talking performance reviews or objectives. Motivation must be intrinsic, not imposed. Methods to help stimulate this motivation include:

  • excellent role modelling from the leader
  • recognition of effort
  • encouraging a mindset which embraces mistakes, rather than avoiding their implications and shying away from them, using the opportunity to get better.

Commercial benefits of applying football excellence in PR

The efforts and outcomes achieved by the majority will be of greater commercial benefit to an organisation than that of the – very rare – person who relies primarily on talent, rather than hard graft.

This should not be taken as meaning the practitioner relying on practice rather than natural talent cannot be creative or imaginative. Far from it.

Creativity is often stimulated from insights which come through a deep familiarisation with content and the task at hand.

Intuition itself becomes even more honed after years of practice. This can help deliver insights more quickly than those without practice. Those who more quickly develop intuitive and insight-identification skills are – or should be – those who are considered for leadership roles. It saves time (= money) and provides a foundation for empathy.

Not only is empathy a characteristic of the excellent public relations practitioner, it is a characteristic of an excellent leader.

What is your view of the analogies I have drawn here, essentially looking for similarities between practicing PR and coaching kids football? What ‘non-professional’ factors do you draw upon when considering business activity? Should professionals be given opportunities to make mistakes or should we never put a business in that position?

Reference: many of the notions referred to in this post are captured in Football Federation Australia’s Game Training Certificate participant manual.