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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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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