What makes someone “good” at the PR profession? The top-tier agencies and industry recruiters and search firms have their well-tested theories and ideas, while (perhaps unsurprisingly) very few actual clients have the experience and training to evaluate a the performance of a PR pro, whether it’s related to a one-off campaign or a long-term engagement.
If one were to ask most client-side marketing or corporate communications people how they go about selecting the right PR firm or specialist, you’ll hear descriptors such as “industry experience” and “great media contacts,” and those are absolutely legitimate answers. Industry-specific experience and product expertise and a stellar media contacts have always been considered basic stock-in-trade for the PR profession.
The thing is, ask those same clients what made the PR pro effective, and ask immediately after placing a game-changing story or wrapping up an extremely successful engagement, and you’ll hear a different story. They’ll likely tell you that it wasn’t as much about the PR person, or anything he/she did exactly. No, the client will say it was because they have a simply great product, or the power of the brand, or a really dynamic CEO spokesperson. And they're not wrong. All those things are crucial. The point here is that there must be something that the really solid, competent and well-regarded PR professionals bring to the party.
After a couple decades of observation, I’ve figured out that most effective PR professionals —the kind who thrive in any industry category, with any type of client, in any situation — always tend to share these four key traits.
So, going forward, these are the types of traits the BEST PR professionals have:
Be a student of history. The best PR pros I have seen have a sharp awareness of and appreciation for repeated journalistic patterns in their industries, and this requires being a student of history. No matter what your client says or thinks, chances are someone in their field or related industry has already done or attempted to do whatever it is your client is trying to do. Reading the history of your clients’ and their industries is an extremely valuable high-return activity…..and it's very surprising how few PR people actually do this. Read some books and get a sense for how the clients’ markets and audiences have evolved over the years; such information can be incredibly empowering. Knowing about the past, including product evolutions, previous technology disruptions, biographies of industry luminaries, etc. will enable the PR pro to better analyze industry trends and situations in their client’s current market landscapes. And the better one is at analyzing and articulating trends, the better they'll will be when it comes to pitching story ideas to journalists.
Be patient. Take the long-term view when it comes to delivering “results”. This is a very important trait. Many clients…actually most clients.....basically all clients....are not patient when it comes to the ROI for their PR spend. We get paid to convince journalists to cover our clients. Sometimes, a story idea you would share with a journalist on behalf of your client might look like an ok pitch today, even better 3 months from now, and a slam-dunk in 6 months. So the obvious thing to do which is in the best interest of your client would be to wait the 6 months (after all, isn’t that ability to view things from a strategic perspective one of the things they’re paying you for?) in the meantime, you’re feeling the heat because the client is upset and making noise about how they want some quick results. The best PR pros can keep their eyes on the big prize and won’t succumb to the temptation of simply placating their client by setting up meetings with the low-hanging fruit of mediocre outlets that have minimal impact. As they say on Wall Street, be patient, never chase the trade, instead let the trade come to you.
Be disciplined. This isn’t about personal self-discipline in a time management sense - although that’s important. If you can’t keep off of social media or fantasy sports sites to the point where your effectiveness is compromised then you may have bigger professional issues than this article can help you with. This is the discipline that gives PR pros the ability to stick to the fundamentals, then build upon and leverage those fundamentals to achieve success. With PR, success in PR lies in clearly identifying the correct journalists, developing compelling story ideas that enable the journalists to cover your client, and ensuring those journalists are exposed to those story ideas at the right time. The undisciplined PR pro is always ignoring these fundamentals while looking for the “Holy Grail” of algorithmic-driven research and special media list software, or other short cuts to success.
Be confident. Unfortunately, pushiness is endemic in PR, especially amongst the lower- and entry-level ranks of the profession. In most cases, it stems from insecurity, which is borne of a lack of confidence. And, groveling while being pushy doesn’t sweeten the pushiness or mean you’re less pushy. It just makes you even more annoying. The PR pros who last in this business don’t grovel, and they aren’t pushy or demanding. What they are is confident. The news cycle is bigger than any one PR person or team, and instead of going into every media-facing situation as default-mode groveling or pushy, the best PR pros go forth with confidence, because they always know when they have something solid to offer….and when they don't.