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.



Five tips for running a successful PR business

Running a successful PR business means you need to be flexible, possess excellent people skills, find positives in all work and people, have a strong desire to learn, be able to collaborate effectively and have humility.

PR clients are like family

PR clients are like family

In a previous post I discussed the importance of flexibility and my ‘bird in the hand’ approach to opportunities, whilst in this post I explore the other characteristics I think are needed to achieve success in running a PR business or consultancy. This can apply equally to sole operators or agencies of any size, but it also applies to carving out a career in the PR discipline.

People skills in public relations

One of my mantras is that whilst being a good writer is the number one attribute needed for success (and effectiveness) in public relations, being a good person is the second most important attribute.

It may seem odd a ‘simple’, or at least straightforward (hmmm, perhaps I’m getting myself in deeper water here…), skill such as writing can be so important. But the fact of the matter is that writing is at the core of everything public relations undertakes:

  • Media releases, white papers
  • Emails, tweets, reports etc to journalists and other stakeholders
  • Strategies, campaign content
  • Storytelling in all its guises for any platforms, which includes video scripts and outlines, briefs to directors, photographers, designers and more.

Even in this virality-driven video and photo-centric social media world, writing is fundamental to all of what we do.

Having said that, being able to work with different sorts of people – with their varied personalities, viewpoints and operating styles – is incredibly important if you are running your own business.

You often don’t get to choose who you work with; you just need to crack on and achieve the best result you possibly can. Clients are a bit like family – you don’t get the luxury of choice a lot of time, at least if you apply my strategic approach of ‘bird in the hand’.

Being a good person, one who has a lot of empathy and can understand the drivers and challenges of a client, is of infinite help when working with people. It enables you to work effectively with people. It also helps you anticipate their needs so you can either be ready and armed with a solution, or be able to understand the challenge and speedily deliver the requisite result.

Finding positives in all work and people

A chief characteristic of an effective public relations professional is having a half glass full approach to work which means, really, this is the same attitude you bring to your life as a whole.

Part of this is finding positives in the vast majority of work and people who you work with. As a consultant and a person who runs their own business, this is a vitally important asset.

When running your own business you can be assured it won’t all be smooth sailing. Whether it’s because of a difficult client, a mistake you have made or work you delivered which could have been better, a lack of work or a difficulty you have in creating a solution to a challenge, there are two characteristics you need to survive:

  • An ability to persevere and work until you find a solution
  • Recover from setbacks, mistakes and missed opportunities and ‘carry on’.

Even those of us with an unremitting sunny smile for life will encounter dark times. Accepting this as a reality can help deal with the situation. The challenge for all of us is to get through these painful situations and periods and not come out too scarred. Because the loss of hope, the loss of the half glass full mojo, would be crippling.

Hunger to learn in public relations

Public relations is an inherently iterative profession. Look at how social media, viral marketing, mobile marketing, responsive design, video, photography, infographics, email marketing, content marketing and SEO have all impacted profoundly on the PR discipline over the past ten years.

Without a desire to learn about new ‘things’, about tactical elements and their driving strategic rationales, then your career won’t necessarily be dead. But for sure you will be limited in your options and you won’t progress to the more senior echelons of the discipline.

For me personally, a lack of desire to learn intimates an inability to find joy in working in public relations, perhaps the greatest professional crime of all. But that is purely subjective and I can understand there are those who have no interest in learning or developing; it just seems a very strange mindset to possess.

Part of learning is not just about new skills, either, it is improving current ones. And surely one of the best ways to improve is to learn from alternative approaches to what you currently undertake (e.g. writing). For instance, the reading of literature is vital to help in improving writing capability, but I know not all of us do it!

Ability to collaborate effectively

When running your own PR business you will need to collaborate with clients all the time. You may need to collaborate with other relevant services providers, too, such as designers, photographers, event managers, videographers and more.

Many of us in PR provide ourselves on our creative ability. Often we need to refine that creativity with the pragmatic realities of budget and technical constraints. Collaboration will often crystallise these limitations for us and we need to be able to adapt to the situation.

It is rare in collaboration not to learn new information, which as I have said will provide pleasure in undertaking the work. So it’s not all bad!

Humility in running a successful PR business

We are never so adept at what we do and excellent in the outcomes we deliver that we cannot have done better.

Certainly, there may be some brilliant work we undertaken and results we achieve but, for me at least, there is always room for improvement.

I have been fortunate in that about 90% of clients I’ve worked with during the last five years have asked me to do additional work for them. I am happy with this as I believe it to be a pretty good success rate and, really, for me it is the ultimate measure of success. It’s analogous to the only question you ever need to ask a previous employer when doing a reference check on someone: ‘If there was an opportunity would you hire this person again?’

Getting work or clients is never, in my experience, easy. So I am extremely grateful when it occurs, an attitude forged in the fact I only started my own business as a result of being made redundant in the fire of the GFC.

Just like Michael Caine who evidently said he never liked to knock back an acting gig as he was afraid if he did opportunities would dry up, for me the bird in the hand strategy is the only one I feel comfortable in applying

If you have been running your own business, what do you think are the necessary factors to be successful? What do you believe to be the greatest challenges in running a business or consultancy? Do you have any advice you can share with me?

PS. A big thank you to the many people who have supported me the past five years, whether you are a client, someone who has referred me some business or who has shared some content I have produced through social media – it all helps!

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Lessons from running a successful PR business for 5 years

The fundamental reasons for the success of my PR business, which has just had its fifth anniversary, are being flexible, people skills, having the capacity to find positives in all work and people, a hunger to learn, an ability to collaborate effectively and humility.

Success of my PR business? Well, in many ways I feel like ridiculing that assertion. Running my own PR business, as a sole operator, was never an ambition. And sometimes the rapidly materialising precipice of no work and/or no clients and therefore no way to pay the bills has been emotionally exhausting and psychologically gruelling.

But if the bottom line of success is measured in two simple dimensions – making enough money to support my family and enabling me to make a reasonable contribution to society over the past five years (e.g. helping children in the Surf Life Saving movement and through football coaching) then, happily, I can definitely attest this has occurred.

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I don’t think my personality is the best suited in the world to navigate the travails and overcome the endless array of obstacles any business owner encounters, but by the very outcome of money made = evidence to the contrary, perhaps I am being harsh on myself.

In this post I contemplate some of the reasons for how I have been able to sustain my business over five years. In my next post I will talk about further reasons including people skills, the importance of a half glass full attitude, a hunger to learn, collaboration and humility.

Flexibility in PR consulting

If you are an inflexible person, then you will fail as a consultant, whether you work in PR or another field. A lack of flexibility in PR as a whole, not just consulting, will also be your undoing. You will struggle to advance in your career, because in many ways all PR professionals are consultants, including those who work in-house.

Here are some reasons why flexibility is a default requirement to be a PR consultant and/or run a successful PR business:

  • There are many different sorts of platforms and activities you will need to have knowledge of and the ability to implement. If your expertise is too narrow, you will reduce the opportunities where you can gain work. Examples include writing, media relations, social media and market research
  • Being able to deliver both strategy/strategic counsel and tactics. So you need to have strategic capabilities but also an interest and willingness to dig ditches, do the hard yards, as well as the capability to do so. This interest cannot be faked, because you won’t deliver quality outcomes if your heart isn’t in it and your client will easily detect it – and your client will want passion and alacrity or that is just SO much an EX-client!
  • Clients change their minds all the time. Unbelievable, I know, but it’s true… This is the nature of life, so you need to be able to go with the flow, roll with the punches et al or you’ll stress yourself out too much. With any luck (or brains) your arrangement is one where you are paid for your time, rather than getting stuck on that iceberg-fail of all consultancy iceberg-fails, a set fee (but that’s another story)
  • Reprioritisation is a normal part of PR consultancy life. And if you are a sole operator like me, then the only person you have to delegate tasks to is yourself. The upshot of this is that your personal life needs to be on the table as a reprioritisation negotiating asset. Your missus or man may not like that too much, and your kids sure as hell won’t, but as Clint Eastwood said, c’est la vie. (Clint may not have actually said that, but he was pretty big in France with all that auteur thing so it’s a feasible connection.)

Bird in the hand strategy

Flexibility came to me in another, unexpected way, too. And this involved the way in which work is structured:

  • I started out as being fortunate enough to have direct clients
  • Then one or two of those clients asked me to work in-house with them on a secondment basis for a certain amount of hours each week
  • Then I sub-contracted myself through a recruitment agency or a PR agency to work in-house for extended periods of time with organisations
  • And, finally, I contracted to a PR agency for quite a while as a de facto permanent employee.

All terrific experiences, but it just goes to show you need to be able to evolve into the opportunity. Conversely, of course, there is an argument for not being too flexible as it will undermine your positioning, your value proposition etc. I get that.

But my value proposition included two key elements:

  • Be flexible in meeting client requests to assist in sustaining a mutually beneficial and respectful relationship
  • Take concrete opportunities that are there in front of you and which are paying dollars, because I didn’t have the confidence to hold out for other opportunities, which may or may not have eventuated. This is otherwise known as the bird in the hand strategy.

If you have been running your own business, what do you think are the necessary factors to be successful? What do you believe to be the greatest challenges in running a business or consultancy? Do you have any advice you can share with me?

PS. A big thank you to the many people who have supported me the past five years, whether you are a client, someone who has referred me some business or who has shared some content I have produced through social media – it all helps!

If you found value in this post, please share it through LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or Google+.