17 tips for a wildly successful PR career

One communicator distilled his wisdom from three decades into a cheat sheet. The insights include being kind, trusting people, cultivating your mind, generously giving and more.

PR veterans amass wisdom over the years if they pay attention to the lessons all around them.

For younger communicators and graduates embarking on a career in the PR industry, these insights can help you navigate the sometimes-bumpy road of media relations, campaigns and networking events.

Make sure your seatbelts are fastened and your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright position. Prepare yourself for takeoff: Here are 17 chunks of wisdom I’ve learned over 30 years in the PR industry.

1. Make enough mistakes to succeed. If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not taking enough foolish risks. There is no shame in making mistakes if you learn from them.

Fortune reported that workers in the space shuttle program “not only learned more from failure than from success, but also retained the lessons longer.”

2. Don’t make the same mistakes twice. Are you making the same mistakes over and over? Feh, you’re a schlemiel (it’s Yiddish; look it up).

3. Learn from other people’s mistakes. Apply them to your own career. Bridge player Alfred Sheinwold said, “Learn all you can from the mistakes of others. You won’t have time to make them all yourself.”

4. Never lie. You know what lying feels like. Don’t lie to clients, co-workers, journalists or bloggers. Promise yourself that you will never, ever make stuff up.

Instead, become legendary for your integrity. It’ll set you apart from 80 percent of the people you meet in business.

5. Guard your reputation. Your resume is one of the least important documents in your career. Your LinkedIn profile is more important than that, but your reputation and character is paramount.

What will people you’ve worked with say about you, in private and in confidence? Nothing affects your career more. To establish that reputation, see No. 4.

6. Eliminate your ego. Recognize the narcissist in you and fight against it. Nothing is more career-corrosive than being someone out only for him or herself.

Generously share credit. Embrace humility and let graciousness flourish. What could be more attractive in our business than a humble PR genius?

7. Always help your co-worker or client during crises. Make it clear you have their back. If a client or co-worker is fired, be the first reassuring voice they hear and the first to take them out to coffee. Let them know that your network is their network.

Marketing guru Don Peppers told clients if they ever lost their jobs, his agency would have an empty office with a phone waiting to support their search. You’d be shocked how many people won’t even return the calls of someone who just lost his or her job.

People never forget their guardian angels. Your wings are waiting.

8. Mourn with your colleagues. If a co-worker or client is grieving the loss of a family member, be there for that person. Few others will.

When in doubt, attend the funeral of a client or co-worker’s loved one. Author Harvey Mackay recalls standing outside the synagogue after the funeral of his father, imprinting the face of every person who cared enough to attend his father’s ceremony.

9. Avoid non-compete agreements. Never sign an employment contract that contains a non-compete clause.

10. Quickly return phone calls. Few communicators do this—but if you do, it’ll make an impression.

Former Minneapolis Star Tribune business writer Neal Gendler told me about trying to reach Edina Realty CEO Ron Peltier, only to be told that Peltier was in an airplane going to a business meeting. Minutes later, Gendler’s phone rang. Incredibly, it was Peltier. Gendler retells that story with reverence.

11. Read. If you’re not reading 100-200 pages a week (from blogs, books, newspapers and magazines) about developments in PR and marketing, you’re falling behind. Mashable, Social Media Today, Ragan Communications and the HubSpot blog are essential reading—along with Hemingway, Conan Doyle, Shakespeare, Bradbury and Norman Mailer.

12. Be happy for everyone. Find satisfaction in the success of competitors. Challenge yourself to rejoice in the triumphs of your archrivals. A big-time theatrical producer once joked, “It’s not enough that I succeed. My friends must fail.”

I think he was joking, though I hope he was. Become a cheering squad for your peers. It will unsettle your enemies and charm your competitors.

13. Realize the power of names. Try hard not to misspell people’s names. It’s one of the few minor transgressions that people never forgive and forget.

14. Say thanks. Master the exquisite art of the personalized “thank you”—individual expressions of gratitude (not a mere email) to anyone who helps you.

When I was young and foolish, I innocently neglected to thank a business executive who had been enormously helpful when I was networking, and he remembered that slight for years. Be young, but don’t be foolish.

15. Mind the details. The shine of your shoes, the firmness of your handshake, the steadiness of your eye contact, the crispness of your shirt or blouse—all the things that should not matter in business end up mattering enormously.

16. Be engaged and committed . Don’t let yourself become someone who takes orders. Train yourself to be proactive. Be an initiator. Go three steps farther than anyone expects. Be committed.

Lee Aase, director of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network, recently underwent a live broadcast on Periscope of his own colonoscopy. That’s commitment!

17. Connect with people the right way. Networking is not mining business associates for client leads, your next job or other prizes. Networking is getting to know a human being so that you can learn how to help him or her.

Check out more career advice for PR pros in my latest SlideShare.

Paul Maccabee is president of Maccabee PR, a Minneapolis strategic PR and online marketing agency. A version of this article originally appeared on the MaccaPR blog.

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Topics: PR


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