7 Skills That You Really Need to Make It in PR

I’ve met a lot of incredibly capable PR people who are not going to get very far in the PR world. That’s because in order to become a valued professional in today’s marketplace, PR pros need much more than the talent to communicate.

Feb 13 program

Today’s successful PR pro needs the “hard” business skills to become a valued business partner and not a mere tactician. PRSA-NCC’s annual “From PR Manager to PR Leader” half-day seminar on Feb. 13 will share some of these skills that PR people need to take their career to that next level. Here are just a few.

1) Become self-aware first 
A good manager looks in the mirror first. Do you really know your management strengths and weaknesses and are you willing to do the hard work to minimize your deficiencies? Do you know your personality type and management style and are you willing to accept constructive criticism? If you are willing to work hard to improve your management skills, then those you lead will do the same.

2) Manage “up”
Do you know how to work with the C-suite folks so they value and recognize your skills and the value you bring? Do you know their priorities and how to show them that you help address them? If you are not focused on managing this all-important relationship, you won’t even get a chance to take your career to the next level.

 3) Become budget savvy
Can you develop and manage a budget for your programs, campaigns, or accounts? You don’t do the PR profession any favors if you say, “I’m a PR person, I don’t need to know math” (yes, I’ve heard it.) To be taken seriously by the C-suite (see above) you need to show that you appreciate and understand the bottom line and can provide a return on investment for your PR activities.

4) Listen up
I’m not going to win a lot of friends by saying this but a lot of us PR people forget that communication is a two-way street. We are so focused on our elevator pitch and talking points that we sometimes forget that the best way to win people over is by listening (really) to their needs first and then demonstrating how we can meet those needs. Human interaction is never about you. It’s always about them.

5) Handle conflict with style
Can you manage irate clients, contractors, colleagues and other emotionally charged people? Every manager will encounter conflict at some point. Knowing how to calmly ratchet down emotions is the difference between a star manager and one who is not.

6) Put people first
Do you know how to motivate people and enhance team dynamics? We are only as good as the people around us. If we can get our teams to cohesively work together and smooth over the inevitable rough patches, we can keep moving forward.

7) Avoid burnout
The PR business can be a 24/7 grind so you need to manage the elusive work/life balance and learn tactics for getting organized, pacing yourself and delegating to others. Otherwise, you won’t be around long enough to make it far in the PR profession.

The above is only a starting point (feel free to add your own in the comments below) but if you learn these skills you will have a decided advantage as you advance in your career. Most of us learn these skills when we’re thrown in the management pool for the first time and told to “sink or swim.” But if we prepare ourselves with these managements skills ahead of time, we will be prepared to take that plunge with confidence.

About Jeff Ghannam
A former president of PRSA-NCC, Jeff Ghannam brings more than 20 years of experience in corporate and non-profit communications and journalism. He is president of Crystal Communications & Marketing, LLC, a consultancy serving the association and nonprofit community with integrated communications and marketing services and leadership training targeted at communications staff. The “From PR Manager to PR Leader” seminar on Feb. 13 will be the third such annual seminar he has delivered for PRSA-NCC.

Jeff was previously vice president of communications and marketing for the Biotechnology Institute in Arlington, Va. Jeff’s career experience includes news reporting, editing, and PR management, all of which led him to hone his management and leadership skills. Jeff has conducted leadership training workshops for organizations that want to maximize their human resources potential so they can better achieve their strategic objectives. He cites real-life PR management-based examples and scenarios and uses an engaging and interactive format that allows participants to address their specific management and leadership challenges.

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Relationship building 101 meets 20+ LeaderPack

Much has been written about the value of good, old-fashioned, face-to-face human interaction, especially as online communication has become increasingly abbreviated, fleeting and impersonal.

In his best-selling book, “Never Eat Alone,” Keith Ferrazzi makes the case for genuine, in-person relationship building. And sociologist Ray Oldenburg has written about the human need for a “third place” that is not your home or your workplace (such as a café, bookstore or hair salon) where people can interact, collaborate, exchange ideas and just plain hang out.

Why do I bring this up? Because on April 24, PRSA-NCC launched a quarterly luncheon program for senior communicators called “20+ LeaderPack” that in my humble opinion meets all of the criteria for the kind of interaction that Ferrazzi and Oldenburg have called for.

As Jeff Ghannam—the organizer of last week’s inaugural luncheon at Carmine’s—noted in his post “Senior Moments to Come,” the goal of this new program is to provide a forum for senior-level professionals to interact and support each other and jointly address common challenges and concerns.

In his welcoming remarks, Jeff said he felt senior communicators have graduated beyond networking and seek venues where they can build relationships and share ideas. Although the 20+ luncheons will have speakers, the presentations are not the focus. The presenters will act instead as facilitators so that the group can tap into the experiences and resources the attendees themselves bring to the table.

Perhaps fully half of the 25 communicators who attended last week—many of them leading practitioners here in D.C.—are independents or head a PR firm. Others have changed jobs or made substantial career moves. That made guest speaker Kristi Hedges’ talk all the more relevant. Hedges, now a leadership coach, described the various “pivots” in her career from political campaign worker to journalist, PR agency head and, more recently, book author.

Hedges’ message of authentic communication and intentionality (her book is called “The Power of Presence”) seemed to resonate. She talked about how we tend to be “too busy to figure out what our true passion is” and need to “give ourselves the time and space to try new things.” Hedges said it begins with “just being honest with yourself” and finding a style of communication that aligns with your values.

I especially liked the family-style seating and service at Carmine’s, which facilitated our sharing and conversing. Long frustrated by standup receptions where you try to juggle a drink, a plate of food and still shake someone’s hand, it was a relief to sit down and have a pleasant, extended conversation with the colleagues who sat next to me.

At my end of the table, we talked about our own career changes, the pros and cons of solo practice and projects we’ve been working on. Everyone was engaged, BlackBerries and iPhones were turned off and the discussion lasted longer than a 140-character tweet. Now that’s relationship building!

Look for details about future 20+ events on this blog and in PRSA-NCC mailings.

By Jay Morris

Jay Morris serves on the PRSA-NCC Board and is president of Jay Morris Communications LCC in Alexandria, Va.