Now that I’ve practiced public relations full-time for nearly 30 years – and you know what they say practice makes – I’ve presumably picked up a lesson or two. So it’s time I shared some New Year’s resolutions that I make every year.
Of course I’m going to avoid stating the excruciatingly obvious. For example, I could advise you to be braced for anything. I could caution that you never know what's coming the next day, that news is always breaking, that a client is somehow always in crisis, and that unless you're ready for anything, you’re ready for nothing. But hey, you already know that.
Likewise, I could counsel you to stay fast on your feet. I could warn that you can seldom be fast enough, that try though you will to get ahead of the news – and even stay ahead of it – you’ll always lag a beat behind, that the news is faster than anyone in PR will ever be, and just keeps getting faster. But come on, let’s just skip that. I mean, I respect you too much.
Here, then, are my favorite tips:
- Ask questions of your clients and colleagues. And once you’ve asked your questions, ask some more. Then question the answers. Only rarely does anyone tell you exactly what you most need to know to do your job unless you ask. Nothing is as educational as a hybrid of curiosity and naivete.
- Play doctor. The best public relations professionals are like doctors. In meeting with clients, we must spot symptoms, render a diagnosis and recommend a course of treatment. Unless we do this, we're just quacks.
- Keep it brief. Only at considerable length, ironically enough, do you learn in your communications, finally, to be brief. The demand to be concise, with colleagues and clients, is never-ending. The more you say, the less people hear, much less retain. So give the headlines, the highlights, the takeaways and the implications, all in short order. Do it until it becomes reflex.
- Keep a level head. Doing public relations is an invitation to suffer mood swings all but hourly. It’s akin to bipolar disorder. No sooner do you get a streak going – winning awards, landing clients, scoring media coverage -- than you lapse into a slump. You're soaring high, then you're plummeting low. Take a deep breath. Repeat indefinitely until retirement.
- Never take it personally if your pitches to media are rejected. Learn to get rejected without letting yourself feel rejected. Most likely, even if your pitch was any good, it lacked real news. or was too small or too soft or too close to other news going on, or the reporter was already busy with three other deadlines, or just in a pissy mood. Perhaps consult a dermatologist about getting thicker skin.
- Overcommunicate. Then, just as you’re absolutely certain that you’ve communicated enough with your clients and colleagues, communicate some more. You can rarely communicate too much – ideally you’ll stop short of either ad nauseum or ad infinitum – but you can easily communicate too little.
- Maintain the highest possible standards. A renowned sports psychologist I interviewed once told me, “Excellence is a ritual.” Indeed. So make your deadlines. Honor your commitments. Deliver on your promises. And remember that how you do anything is how you do everything.
- Tell the truth. At its best, PR is the pursuit of truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We literally represent our clients in every sense. We should get at the truth no less rigorously than the philosopher, the lawyer and the novelist.
- Haggle. Everything in PR – as in life itself – is a negotiation. You give me this, I give you that. In the end everything theoretically balances out and everyone walks away happy.
- Exude optimism. It’s essential in PR (comes in pretty handy in life, too). As in: I see possibilities here. As in: this is a promising proposition. As in: we’re going to get this done and we’re going to get it done right. I refer here, by the way, to optimism based on reality, tempered with pragmatism and minus any and all delusions. Keep the faith and you’ practice better PR. Guaranteed.
Bob Brody is an independent public relations consultant in New York City. A frequent essayist for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, he is author of the memoir “Playing Catch with Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes of Age.”