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Top 10 Reasons Why You’d Suck at Public Relations

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Having worked at PR and social media agencies for 12 years, first in Boston, then in San Francisco and now in Portsmouth, NH, I get my share of inquiries from college kids mulling over the idea of starting a career in public relations.

Why do you want to get into PR?” I ask right off the bat.

Well, I really like working with people,” is usually the first thing they fire back with.

Okay, but you can work with people as a grocery store clerk or a tour guide,” I say. “You have to give me more than that.”

And so on. At some point I like to point out what I view to be a list of disqualifiers. If two or more of these sound like you, well, you’d probably suck at PR:

  1. You can’t handle rejection – in PR, you hear “not interested” far more often then you hear “tell me more!” Reporters can be a cranky bunch, particularly if you make the mistake of calling them when they’re staring down the barrel of a deadline. PR is a lot of things, but make no mistake, when it comes to pitching, we’re talking about sales. Yes, it’s highly targeted and customized sales, but sales nonetheless. Got thin skin? No? Keep reading.
  2. Your writing skills are suspect – if writing assignments make you sweat, head for the showers because PR isn’t for you. In my view the most important skill you bring to the table as a PR pro is your ability to write compelling, conversational prose that inspires people – reporters, clients, your colleagues – to take action. Can you improve your writing skills? Sure. But if you’re not a solid writer after completing umpteen years of formal schooling, I predict a short PR career for you. Sorry to be blunt.
  3. You’re as creative as a cafeteria napkin – In PR we brainstorm constantly, always trying to get our synapses firing to spark a one-of-a-kind idea that will get people talking about our clients. Of 100 ideas thrown against the wall, only one or two has the potential to stick. Does creative brainstorming in a group setting sound mortifying to you? Hmm. Something to noodle over.
  4. You hate collaborating – If it drives you nuts when other people try to mess with your work, PR might not be your gig. We’re constantly editing, tweaking, fiddling and massaging our teams’ work. We’re really never done refining, and it’s rare that one person is left to go rogue for a period of time. PR agency life is a team sport, sport.
  5. You aren’t well read – If you aren’t hungry to read all you can about your clients’ respective industries, PR will be a slog. Do you read voraciously in your personal life? No? Do you really think you’ll want to read vast quantities of copy about your client’s industry, competitors, financials, etc? Be honest with yourself.
  6. You have no network – Does your network consist of your cousins and home town buddies? That ain’t gonna fly in the PR world. In our business your connections are gold. They open doors to new business, media opportunities, events and other goodies. Sometimes clients need urgent favors. The seasoned PR pro can usually tap into his or her network and get one granted.
  7. You hate surprises – Well — SURPRISE! – things change so quickly in PR that your head will spin. Your client’s product launch will get delayed. Your co-worker will quit to travel the world. You’ll lose an account through acquisition, and you’ll be forced to learn new tools of the trade with alarming speed. If you’re a creature of habit, you might want a job doing something more predictable.
  8. You don’t see the point of social media – If you’re reading this blog post, congratulations: you now see the value of social media. You don’t have to use every social media tool in the world, but you do need to value its impact on business. PR professionals engage with multiple audiences across multiple platforms. Hey, you said you like working with people, right?
  9. You clam up in front of others – Do you feel like passing out when public speaking? You have my sympathies on this one, because after all these years I still get nervous when going to a pitch, sitting on a panel or media training a room full of executives. The good news is that, unlike writing, this problem can in fact be overcome. It takes time and guts, but it’s not a deal-breaker for me.
  10. You love reading cat blogs – Just kidding. I just think people who read cat blogs are lame.

What’d I miss? Let me have it in the comments section below.

 
 
Comments

3 Responses to Top 10 Reasons Why You’d Suck at Public Relations

  1. casacaudill says:

    Great list! Something all graduating folks interested in PR should read.

    I’d like to add that I think the further you get up the food chain the ability to see the big picture becomes more and more crucial. Yes, a good pitch today is awesome, but what will you be able to do over the course of a quarter or a year to maintain that momentum? To your point above, being a voracious reader is a major point in a PR person’s favor because it helps them form opinions about what the upcoming trends may be before people are talking about it on a mass level.

    Another thing that makes a good PR person – especially on the enterprise technology side – is the ability to plan. Plans change all the time, but if you have an end goal and you know how you’re going to get there, the surprises can be less daunting. And, my experience is that clients love to see that you’ve got a plan because quite honestly sometimes they don’t.

  2. Rich Young says:

    Parry,

    Hilarious my friend. I was going to add a bit about being a lover of cat blogs but you even had that angle covered. Seriously – awesome list. #4 is so darn critical. One of the first areas I explore with candidates is their past experiences in a team sport, or team play, team debate group, whatever. One final disqualifier I might add is “You fail at anticipating.” If you stink at anticipating a client’s response, a reporter’s potential follow question, then this biz is not for you. -Rich

  3. Parry Headrick says:

    Hey @Rich! Thanks for popping in, good sir. I had you with cat blog, right?

    Excellent point about the collaboration piece. You can be the brightest bulb on the shelf but have a dimming effect on the group if you don’t know how to play well with others. And you’re right about anticipation — forewarned is forearmed.

    @Becky, the expression “you can’t see the forest for the trees” comes to mind. Over time the great PR leaders are able to step high above the tactics to keep the team’s collective eye on the prize. Easier said than done in a fluid environment, however.

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