PR colleagues: Don’t forget to brush up on the basics
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These days, it’s all about Web 2.0. David Armano just raised more than $16,000 for a homeless mother—all by making a simple “ask” to his trusted community. Facebook continues to grow by a whopping 600,000 users a day. And there are now more podcasts than radio stations across the world. But, as we all rush to build this new suite of social media skills, are we neglecting the core skills that are so critical to our everyday professional lives?
Don’t we need to keep the bigger picture in mind, here? Our clients need savvy and seasoned counselors who can help solve their business problems. They need strategists that can help build strong brands and manage and lead through crisis. And they need communicators who can help shape perceptions, attitudes and behaviors of key stakeholders inside and outside the organization’s four walls.
These are the key issues our clients pay us to resolve and manage each day. These are the issues that allow us to position ourselves as counselors–not tacticians—in the eyes of our clients. And these are the business challenges our clients are being asked to tackle by their shareholders, employees and customers in this rough-and-tumble economy.
And they all require rock-solid core PR skills.
To be clear, I’m not saying we ignore developing our Web 2.0 skills. I’m just concerned we might be investing a little too much time building these social media skills while we forget or avoid brushing up on the core skills we rely on each and every day.
OK, so let’s talk about these core skills. A former boss, mentor and good friend of mine used to say, “our skills fall into three buckets: Professional skills, client skills and team-building skills.” She summed it up perfectly. Everything else revolves around that. You need those core skills to compete—whether it’s on the corporate side, in an agency environment or if you’re hanging out your own shingle. Core skills rule.
“So what?” you’re saying. You work in the industry. You understand how to work with the media. You consult with clients all the time. Yes, but when was the last time you brushed up on your writing skills? Do you remember a recent situation when you really pushed back on a client and convinced him or her that an alternative approach might work better? What would your team or manager say about you, your work style and your role as a team player or leader?
If we’re going to be the kind of consultants and counselors we want to be for our clients and organizations, we need to keep nurturing our core skills—as we identify and develop these new and evolving skill sets.
So, let’s take a closer look at the three buckets and see how we can start honing our core PR skills:
· Professional skills. For my money, this discussion begins and ends with writing. In my experience the best writers are the best thinkers—and therefore usually end up as keen strategists, strong leaders and luminaries in our business. How can you hone this crucial skill? Start a blog. This allows you to practice your craft and receive real-time feedback from your readers (i.e., if you’re content doesn’t engage your readers, you won’t have any). Volunteer for additional writing projects at work. I spent time at a local newspaper early in my career on the sales side (yes, I am somewhat ashamed to admit that). Since the sales side of things never really piqued my interest, I moseyed over to the editorial folks and asked if and how I could help. In a few weeks, I was writing special sections and I instantly had my first professional writing examples. This might seem obvious, but read. Read. Then read some more. Amazing how much you soak up by reading great writing. Bottom line: You can never pay too much attention to your writing skills. In this business, it’s the most important skill you have.
· Client skills. You can have the best idea in the world, an idea so great it’s going to transform the way your client does business. But, in the end, if you’re not an effective consultant, those ideas will never see the light of day. This means honing your persuasion and consensus-building skills. And don’t forget to manage your client’s expectations–constantly. Many a client relationship has suffered because the consultant neglected to manage expectations effectively. Brush up by offering up your advice for free to a local not-for-profit or charity. They can always use good counsel for the “right price” and it gives you the chance try new approaches virtually risk-free. Or, talk to your mentor or a senior-level professional. They’ve usually been through enough sticky wickets to give you sound advice on what works and what doesn’t in different situations with clients.
· Team-building skills. Probably most critical if you’re working on the agency side, team-building skills are the red-headed stepchild of the core skill set. But, I’d argue they’re every bit as important. Take extra time to mentor more junior-level staff—after all, someone helped you out early in your career, right? Recognize team members who go above and beyond to meet client needs. And always bring a positive, can-do attitude, even when you’re having a bad day. The best leaders and team members I’ve worked with exude a contagious enthusiasm. You just can’t help but feel inspired and motivated when you’re around these folks. That’s what you want to capture. That’s the “magic” that builds extraordinary teams.
Now, it’s your turn. What tips do you have that can help improve our core skills? What has worked for you in the past? And, to back up a bit, are these even the right core skills? What are your thoughts?