Last week I had the pleasure of moderating a panel at the PRSA Northeast District Conference called, “Pearls of Wisdom From PR’s Road Warriors.” One of the things I value most about my membership in the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is the willingness of our members to share their experiences (as well as their networks) with each other. A few “pearls” from this session with Gail Winslow, APR (Director of Corporate Marketing, LexaGene); Clark Dumont, APR (Dumont Communications) and Gail Rymer, APR, Fellow PRSA (Gail Rymer Strategic Communications):
- Prepare Yourself With More Than Communications & Writing Courses. Though the ability to communicate succinctly is important, it is not the only skill required in public relations. An understanding of how to motivate behavior (psychology, sociology); how the organization you’re counseling operates (business); corporate culture (organization development) and research (statistics, analysis) are all essential. “Knowing that PR is being called upon to provide metrics on outcomes and how PR contributes to ROI (return on investment), I wish I’d been less afraid of statistics back in the day,” said Winslow. (References: PRSA’s Barcelona Principles and 9 Ways PR Impacts The Bottom Line by Patrick Jackson). The good news: we are never done learning in this field, and there are many opportunities for professional development, via courses offered from professional associations like PRSA, going back for a Master’s Degree or developing specialized skills through certificate programs.
- Take Advantage of Networking & Mentoring Opportunities. Whether you are attending a PRSA International Conference, representing your organization in a Rotary or Chamber organization or volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about, there are countless ways to build your network. “Say yes to every cup of coffee” — because you never know where it might lead. It’s never too early to seek advice and counsel; surround yourself with people who can serve as mentors throughout your career as you build your “personal Board of Directors.” Reference: www.prsa.org for information on Mentor Connect. The good news: every time you invest time in mentoring someone, there is a good chance “reverse mentoring” will occur and you’ll learn something new yourself.
- Building Authentic Relationships Requires Transparency And Good Listening Skills. Gail Rymer, who had a long and successful career in Environmental Communications with Lockheed Martin and Tennessee Valley Authority, faced many “angry publics” in her career. “There is no replacement for face-to-face communication — but it takes time and effort. Only by listening to the issues, finding common ground and providing honest answers (even if they aren’t popular answers) will you earn trust.” Identify those who are influential “opinion leaders” who can serve as credible 3rd party ambassadors.
- Use Core Values To Guide Your Decisionmaking. Clark Dumont shared wisdom gleaned from a culture transformation effort he led while working for MGM. “When you’re disrupting people’s lives, it becomes personal. Start with the ‘why’ – providing the rationale for change is key.” Using values as their guide, MGM established themselves as a leader in DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion).
- Trust Your Gut And Have Confidence In Yourself. Confidence comes from a combination of experience and education, but even highly-skilled practitioners can suffer from “imposter syndrome.” Have open conversations with organizational leadership; talk their language but stand by your own principles. Explained one panelist: “I was told by leadership that I didn’t have the pedigree – meaning I didn’t have a degree from Harvard – to continue advancing in that organization. During COVID-19 I took an executive leadership course at Cornell University that helped me build the confidence in myself to walk away from that job and find a better fit for my skills, talents and career path.”
Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA is Senior Counsel and Partner at Jackson Jackson & Wagner, a behavioral public relations and management consulting firm based in the Seacoast of NH. For more information, visit www.jjwpr.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.