In PR We Sell Your Brain

Carolyn White Bartoo

As I wrap up my two weeks floating around Ketchum Chicago’s cool, 36th floor offices overlooking Lake Michigan and Millennium Park, I need to shake myself out of my “agency crush” to see what I’ve learned. 

What’s most clear jumps out: PR = ideas.

Consulting agencies sell services.  Right?  You know this.  Attorneys offer legal services, they’re not selling laws.  Capet Magic sells you cleaning services, not carpets.  And PR agencies “sell”  . . . what?

They sell ideas. Big ideas.

Where do ideas come from?  They come from the people agencies employ.  They come from those employees’ brains.  So PR agencies are trafficking in human capital. And I mean that as a compliment.

We in PR . . . sell your brain.

How can you get into the world of PR?  Or agency PR?  How can you sell your brain?

There’s no hidden Willy Wonka Golden Ticket, it’s about getting the work done.  It’s about doing more than you need to do, and becoming known for that.  But “hard work” has many definitions.

Linda Gilbert and Kristin Neuckranz work with loads of Ketchum interns and career-starters, and they say it’s easy to spot hard workers in a crowd.

What does hard work LOOK like?

1.       Hand raised.

2.      Smile.

3.      Ducks in a row.

4.      Head nod.

5.      Buddied up. 

Here’s the breakdown:

1.       Hand raised.  Part of Ketchum Talk folds in the phrase “raise your hand” quite often, which I take to mean taking initiative.  Shoot your hand up and volunteer for things, notice when something needs doing and do it BEFORE being asked.  Make a check list for yourself and make sure you raise your hand at least once – every day.

2.      Smile.  Take criticism well.  Adapt to feedback you receive and look at it as a chance to develop professionally.  DO NOT become defensive, provide counter arguments for criticism, or seem offended. You look too fragile or narcissistic.   That’s a formula for never getting a promotion from your supervisor.

3.      Ducks in a row.  Pay attention to details. If you receive a long email from a co-worker outlining when a conference call is to occur, detailing several recommended items to bring to the meeting . . . remember to bring them! And certainly do not ask your boss to remind you what to bring.

4.      Head nod.  Display confidence rather than arrogance.  People can smell arrogance 50 feet away. . . . And they do not like it. It indicates difficulty playing well with others, which diminishes everyone’s chance of success.

5.      Buddied up.  Get a “buddy”.  Tackle a junior-level staffer who recently moved from intern to employee, or someone who’s been in your shoes recently. Go to lunch, have drinks, get a cupcake.  Pick their brain for what works and what doesn’t on your team.  Ask about organizational culture. Find out what you need to succeed . . . and do it!

OK, got that?  Now my other key learnings come from other rookie slip-ups that seem totally preventable.  Don’t let this be you!

1.       Samantha from Sex in the City is NOT PR.  Most of us NEVER work in glamorous situations, and we don’t work with celebrities.  Groupies don’t pick the set list.  Translation: PR is not a short cut to your own reality show.

2.      Dig deep and think, don’t only do.  Even the most productive person does not make an ideal new-hire.  It all comes down to critical thinking skills.  Show that you can go through lots of information and find trends, distill the key take-aways, look beyond what’s there and deliver what’s not expected.

3.      Expecting bank.  Nobody makes much money at the beginning of a PR career.  Get a nursing degree if you want immediate bank.

Diana Garrett in Ketchum’s NYC office who works on their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programs said it best to me, “Create your own future.”

I can’t think of one person who truly landed their dream job right out of school.  But I can think of plenty of happy, successful PR professionals who remained undaunted by the winds of competition by imagineering their own careers.

How? By raising their hand, helping the new kid, slamming together projects on-time and under-budget, cranking out killer ideas, and by laughing every day.

Carolyn White Bartoo, APR, writes her second guest post following her Plank Center Fellowship at Ketchum’s Chicago office.  Her first post, “Are You Smarter Than An Intern,” appeared last week.  Carolyn directs the PR Sequence and Communication Internship Program for the University of Delaware’s Communication Department, where she also advises their PRSSA-UD chapter.   She blogs at Bartooblogit.   

2 thoughts on “In PR We Sell Your Brain

  1. Carolyn — you are so ON TARGET with your translation of what we learned during our two weeks at Ketchum Midwest. It was great to learn and laugh with you. We were inspired, infused with ideas for new ways of teaching, and we were glad to learn that we are teaching the future PR practitioners the right stuff. Thanks for translating what we learned in such a creative manner!

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