11 Tips to Manage Your PR Career

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PR is a rough business.

PR is misunderstood and undervalued (unless there is a crisis when it is deified and shortly thereafter crucified). There is an atypical amount of churn, and as with nearly every profession the opportunities diminish the further you aspire up the corporate ladder.

So, how do you maintain longevity in the PR profession? What are the common aspects of people who remain viable and relevant in the PR profession? That’s what I wanted to explore in this piece.

These are 11 tips to manage your PR career by PR practitioners for PR practitioners. Number 11 is a great general insight to put everything else in perspective.

1. Develop your people skills

Tips for Your PR Career

“I think people are as individual as snowflakes, they kinda look alike but no two are the exactly the same, and all classification is the root of prejudice.” ― Craig Ferguson

Despite the fact that we have our heads perpetually buried in our smartphones, that we spend hours every day using social media, and that we use tools like PRWeb to send our press releases with one click, communication will always require people skills.

Bob Varettoni, the Executive Director of corporate communications at Verizon says that “communication is (the) most effective leadership skill.” Isabel Fox, founder of IF Communications goes a step further to say that she won’t hire people who can’t clearly articulate “what they’ve done and why that’s been important.”

No matter how good we think we are to communicate a message to others, our skills can always be honed and improved.

2. Technology

“Techmology. What is that all about?” – Ali G

Did I mention that everyone has their heads perpetually in their smartphones, that we spend hours on social media, and that we use tools like PRWeb to send press releases to thousands of journalists with one click? This is reality.

D’Arcy Rudnay, CCO and SVP of Comcast says that digital tools like social media have been one of the biggest changes for PR in the last 10 years. Fred Cook, CEO and President of GolinHarris agrees with Rudnay, singling out LinkedIn as a disruptive networking tool that every PR practitioner should be able to navigate.

Of course social media is quite simple compared to myriad technological tools used for communication and distribution. Keeping up to date with technology will be an essential aspect of staying relevant in the PR profession (and almost any other) for the future .

3. Improve your writing

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” ― Jack Kerouac

It is absolute heresy that I would be the one to cast this stone from my glass house, but you need to improve your writing. Just like people skills, writing is perishable and always can be improved.

Dave Fleet, Senior Vice President of Digital of Edelman Toronto recommends practicing your writing, learning from others, taking courses and proactively writing in the an active voice.

Want writing advice? Listen to Ann Handley at her free on-demand webinar!

4. Be a lifelong learner

Learning - Tips for PR Career

“I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.” – Louisa May Alcott

I had an amazing University professor (Raymond Reyes) who introduced himself on the first day of class like this: “I am a lifelong learner.” I found this particularly profound as a 20 year old expecting to end my formal education when I graduated college. I found out very quickly that the people who devoted themselves to perpetually learning were the most successful people that I encountered.

Mike Michels, the VP of product communications at Toyota Motor Sales says that learning different job functions and how to communicate with different stakeholders was key to his growth in the company. This probably isn’t a unique experience given that “kaizen” (continuous improvement) is a touchstone of the “Toyota Way.”

5. Network (Build your entourage)

“My Golden Rule of Networking is simple: Don’t keep score.” –Harvey Mackay

In Fred Cook’s great PRSA webinar, “Building Today’s Career Path,” he discusses his experiences in the music industry. Stars always had an entourage: people whose sole purpose was to make the star look good. He says that we have the tools and relationships in place to build our own entourages: friends, family, co-workers and their networks, perpetuated by social media (especially LinkedIn) that can act as a platform to introduce us to really interesting, relevant people.

The idea of networking isn’t new: Harvey MacKay wrote an entire book (Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty) about it. In it, he makes the case that proactively networking is an essential task. The metaphor of the well is meant to show that you can’t leverage tenuous relationships only when you need something. You must have the foresight to build relationships proactively.

PRSA also has a really nice white paper called “Networking with Intention” which is worth a read.

6. Be a team player

“I am a member of the team, and I rely on the team, I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion.” ― Mia Hamm

Richard Bagnall, CEO of global media monitoring and measurement agency PRIME Research UK believes that one of the best things you can do is to integrate into a team. He says ” The sum is always greater than the parts. Build a team of smart, motivated and well-rewarded people and make sure you listen to their opinions. Very rarely does one person have all of the answers.”

Daniel Lobring says it more succinctly when he says: “(The) media/PR world is a small world, so don’t burn any bridges.

7. Manage your personal brand

Personal Brand - PR Career Tips

“If I lost control of the business I’d lose myself–or at least the ability to be myself. Owning myself is a way to be myself.” – Oprah Winfrey

The Amazon / Garry Trudeau TV show, “Alpha House” had a running gag this season about a Senator’s daughter who was filming a reality show in order to perpetuate her “personal brand.” It seems as if “personal branding” has become a vehicle for satire, but when we use “thought leader” or “expert” we more or less describe the same concept.

PRSA and TopRank made a list of things that PR professionals should do to proactively showcase their personal expertise:

  • Own their personal SEO.
  • Create an industry blog.
  • Publish personal case studies.
  • Optimize social content to appear in search results.
  • Monitor and manage their reputation.

8. Make mistakes (and learn from them)

“I am glad that I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes.” ― Edna St. Vincent Millay

If you read enough blogs you have probably seen articles describing social media “failures.” A handful are extraordinarily egregious, but for the most part a lot of them are forgettable, probably more appropriately deemed a “mistake” than a failure. Mistakes in PR are public, and digital media serves to amplify those mistakes quite effectively.

Meghan Williams discusses how to make graceful PR mistakes: “Things are going to go wrong, and we’re probably going to be blamed. We just have to accept it, apologize for it, and turn it into a good thing later on.”

9. Grind / Hustle / Tenacity / Hard Work

grindin: (3) to work hard – Urban Dictionary

When asked about advice for PR practitioners, Adrian Salamunovic of popkey says this:

The main ingredient is HUSTLE. No, seriously, it’s the ability and desire to passionately pitch your product to the media any time (it’s 6:53PM on Friday and here I am) with the right angle, the right message and the right attitude.”

Courtney Lukitsch, principal and founder at Gotham Public Relations concurs. When asked about the one trait that she values above all others in an employee she says “tenacity.”

10. Measure

Tape Measure - Tips for Your PR Career

“Take from all things their number and all shall perish.” — Saint Isidore of Seville

Nate Hubbell says this about PR measurement: “There really is no excuse for not knowing exactly what your PR program is doing for your business.”

PR expert Shonali Burke says that there are two questions that PR professionals need to ask when they are planning:

  • What are you trying to do?
  • Why is it important?

The key to measurement is to engineer your metrics so that your work ties to the overarching corporate goals. It you can prove your worth, you probably don’t have to worry about your longevity.

Want measurement tips? Listen to Kami Huyse’s on-demand webinar now!

11. Get lucky

“Lucky fools do not bear the slightest suspicion that they may be lucky fools – by definition, they do not know that they belong to such a category.” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness

As a final point, I’ve been reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s excellent book, Fooled by Randomness. In it, he discusses the fallacy of benchmarking ourselves to others. We ascribe certain characteristics and admirable traits to people because of the the positions that they hold and the money that they make. In actuality (he says), far more success can be attributed to luck than to hard work, process or vision. We assume the world is a meritocracy, but it absolutely isn’t.

What he says that we can do are things that increase our probability of being “lucky.” THAT is where items 1-10 come in. 🙂


In conclusion, I wish you a long, successful career and hope that in your best moments you are emblematic of these 11 qualities. In your worst moments I hope you will aspire to be the Michael Jordan of PR:

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

Post-script: PRSA has a fantastic group of career resources on its website.

About Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty is a featured contributor to the Cision Blog and his own blog, leaderswest. His areas of interest include statistics, technology, and content marketing. When not writing, he is likely reading, running, playing guitar or being a dad. PRSA member. Find him on Twitter @jimdougherty.

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