All I Need to Know about PR… My Daughter Learned in Kindergarten

24 Aug

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By Lisa Gillette-Martin

My esteemed colleague Brian Fisher recently wrote a post on a day in the life of a PR pro, which I found both interesting and enlightening. I would add, however, that being a PR pro with school-age kids poses a whole additional set of challenges – which comes as no surprise to those living this reality every day! Scheduling meetings and conference calls, completing projects and meeting deadlines alongside drop-offs, pickups, lunches, homework, craft projects, music lessons and all the other everyday parenting “stuff” (especially when you’re a single parent) can require some serious juggling skills.

With that said, I’m especially glad that I made being a kindergarten room mom part of my schedule last year. Not only was it fun to be a part of the many, many activities and to get to know other room parents, it was eye-opening to watch the kids’ interactions. It struck me that much of what they were learning resonates in the world of PR and communications.

With the new school year getting under way, I thought this would be a good time to share these principles:

  1. Talk less, listen more – We tend to think of PR as a socially oriented profession, and part of our job is to articulate our thoughts and recommendations about a company’s positioning, competitive stance and other factors. However, as my very socially oriented daughter has had to learn, the more you talk, the less you hear what someone (teacher, client – parent, heaven forbid) is trying to tell you. Putting on your “listening ears” is essential to making sure you really understand what is wanted and expected of you – and what isn’t.
  2. Wait your turn – This is somewhat of a corollary to the above. It can be highly tempting to jump in and begin course-correcting the second you feel a client (or your company, if you are an internal PR rep) is straying off the path they should follow to optimize their communications efforts. However, if you don’t take the time to ensure you’ve gathered all the relevant information before you take your turn to offer opinions or recommendations, you may be “cutting in line” and missing some critical data.
  3. Play nice with others – The old “Golden Rule” still applies. As a service-based profession, one of the most valuable skills you can learn when working in PR is diplomacy. Not every person with whom you work is going to be easygoing, reasonable, responsive, etc. Learning to deal with the difficult folks means treating them as you’d like to be treated, even if they’re not necessarily following this rule themselves.
  4. But don’t tolerate bullies – Difficult is one thing; abusive is another. Sometimes, you have to draw the line. If you work in PR long enough, eventually (unless you’re extremely lucky) you’ll find yourself in the position of having to extend some “tough love” or, in extremely rare cases, an ultimatum. Life is too short to work with people who not only make your life miserable but don’t really care. (This applies to personal relationships, too, but that’s another story.)
  5. Learn to share – This pertains to all your professional relationships. Share your best thoughts, ideas and counsel with your client (internal or external), but also, share with your colleagues. Share your abilities with them to help address their challenges, and also share what you need so that you can tap each other’s strengths. Don’t hog the glory, and don’t try to do it all yourself.
  6. Learn to tell a story – This does NOT mean fibbing (as I’ve had to explain to my daughter on occasion!) Storytelling is the cornerstone of successful PR efforts – and it doesn’t just apply to telling a company’s story. You need to be able to tell your own story, too. Know your strengths, develop and define your brand, and understand how it meshes with that of your company or agency. As MCA’s founder used to say, PR people can be like the shoemaker’s children – making great shoes for everyone else while we go barefoot.
  7. Look at the big picture – When you’re putting together the components of a PR campaign, launch, or components thereof, it’s essential that you not just see the trees, but look at the forest, as well. Many companies, especially large ones with multiple divisions, sometimes behave as though they are completely disconnected, with messages that don’t complement each other, or may even be contradictory. You need to be able to…
  8. Connect the dots – Help your audiences grasp how your company’s or client’s messages mesh together, how they link to the topline corporate branding/messaging (as appropriate), and how they help fill gaps or flesh out needs within your industry and served markets. Sometimes you have to help the company itself understand how these dots connect – corporate myopia can be a powerful thing – before you can get buy-in and support to explain it to external audiences.
  9. Stay inside the lines…sometimes – One thing you always have to keep in mind when developing PR strategies and recommendations is corporate culture. There will be some ideas that you will instinctively know aren’t going to fly given internal belief systems, personalities and politics. However, if the company is truly planning something groundbreaking or game-changing (yes, I know those phrases are overused) that calls for an equally bold PR strategy, pick your battle and step outside the lines, making sure you have cogent, compelling arguments for your position.
  10. Have fun – My daughter is quickly learning that a lot more is expected of her in first grade than was the case in kindergarten. However, one thing hasn’t changed, and I hope it never will: school should be fun. Not just lunch and recess, but learning itself. She loves to learn, and right now, that’s her job. Like any job, PR presents its share of challenges and headaches, but don’t forget how to have fun doing your job. At its best, PR is a great profession that allows you to be both creative and strategic, a dreamer and a problem-solver. Always strive to make sure both sides of the equation are in balance so that you can enjoy what you do each day.
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