Twenty-plus years at agencies and in-house roles in the US and London have taught me a few things about success in the PR business. For one, it is elusive. PR is a popular path for many early in their professional lives, but how many remain after five or ten years? Far too many are lured away well before they’ve had a chance to truly succeed.
For another, it’s hard to measure. There are far more direct paths to material wealth, if that’s what you’re after, and fame favours those whom we serve, rather than any ambitions for personal celebrity. And it’s fickle. We’ve all wondered how some people achieved whatever station they’ve attained (my own appointments to various posts have raised eyebrows, I’m sure), or why others seem unable to catch a break, despite seemingly having all the right stuff.
Even so, there seem to be some personal characteristics that, while not guaranteeing success in our business, can be associated with a long and satisfying professional experience in the communications business. Here’s what I’ve learned to look for in potential colleagues, whether they’re raw talent just joining the work force or seasoned professionals under consideration for board positions:
1. Curiosity. Einstein said that intellectual growth begins at birth and ceases only at death, but that’s not true of everyone. For the truly curious, work becomes play, or at least a pursuit worth continuing, day after day. I’m not talking about the random, shallow curiosity of children, but a deeper, focused need to understand and master the answers to the questions before you each day.
2. Integrity. I read somewhere that having integrity is like being pregnant: either you are, or you are not. No middle ground. Perhaps, but the larger point is that integrity is not confined to the ‘large’ matters of honesty about invoices and counsel, but also avoiding the ‘small’ challenges, like gossip or making excuses.
3. Versatility. Even as the PR business continues to specialise along narrowing lines of expertise, versatility – the ability to move seamlessly from one kind of task to another, or one industry to another – is key. Yes, this needs to be balanced with specific competencies, but show me someone who can be a leader and a follower, a doer and a manager, all in a day, and I’ll show you someone likely to be successful.
4. Courage. It takes fortitude to speak the truth when something at work is amiss, and this kind of ‘constructive opposition’ can be a real marker for courage. Even greater? The capacity to make adjustments when something is amiss in your own working style, or to push yourself beyond your personal comfort zone.
5. Generosity. PR can be ruthlessly competitive, and keeping score can be exhausting, not to mention demoralising. The temptation is to hold your cards close, and to share only as much as you must. This might pay off in the short run, but for the long game, you’re better off giving as much as you can, to as many people as you can, for as long as you can. Why? Because people will want to help you in return, and the most important thing I’ve learned about success is that you can’t have it if others won’t help you get it.
Thanks to Ketchum colleague David Gallagher for this post, which also appears in UK online PR publication, PRmoment. David is CEO Ketchum Pleon London and he also serves as president of Ketchum Pleon Europe. David is chairman of the Public Relations Consultants Association.