These eight tips to succeed in public relations are about more than writing well or liking to work with people. Public relations is really about selling. It’s also about solving problems, understanding your clients’ businesses, and many other things.
One of the reasons I opted to get a degree in public relations is because I didn’t want to follow in my successful father’s footsteps.
He was a salesman—or as he liked to call himself, a peddler—and I wasn’t the least bit interested in sales as a career path. But while I worked on my degree, nobody revealed that I was starting a career in sales. That quickly changed.
1. In PR, selling is everything.
It didn’t take long after I stepped into my first job to figure out that selling is just about everything in PR. I may not sell valves and regulators as my dad did, but I peddle ideas, concepts, and sometimes even products.
You can talk about convincing or persuading all you want, but trust me. When you accept that a job in PR is a job in sales, you’ll move ahead in your career much faster.
2. Selling is solving problems.
My dad was a very successful salesman, and eventually owned a company. He always gave some credit for that to a Dale Carnegie course he took when he moved from an engineer to a sales engineer. He said it taught him that selling was about satisfying people’s needs.
When I asked him about the keys to success, he said they were about much more than just knowing your product better than anyone else.
He told me it doesn’t matter how great your product is. If it doesn’t solve your customers’ needs and help them sleep soundly after they buy it, you can’t sell it. He said his job was really to understand the needs of his customers and find ways to satisfy them.
3. Great PR requires you to understand your clients.
My dad and I talked about this a lot. In addition to solving his clients’ problems, my dad’s job was to understand his customers’ different plants and processes as well as they did. Beyond that, he had to know what constituted a win for each of them. He had to make sure everything on his side of a transaction was in place to deliver not just the product, but winning experiences for his customers.
You need to understand the space your customers live and breathe in. Who do they compete with for support within their organization? If you’re a consultant, you need to analyze each and every client. You can’t give good advice or create winning scenarios if you don’t understand the competition in every area. And no, you don’t need an MBA to get a grasp on the competitive environment. Here are some great tips on how to do so.
4. A career in PR is a career in sales.
If you want to be successful in PR, you need to create winning experiences for your customers. You have to figure out what their organizations need.
You also need to understand what they’re really looking for, and how to deliver it. You need to know what everyone in the delivery chain needs—reporters, bloggers and thought leaders, to name a few—to help you get the win for your client.
5. Money makes the world go ’round.
When you opt for a career in PR, you have to understand that money is what makes every organization run. Everyone in business, not just PR pros, should know how to read income and cash-flow statements, and understand a balance sheet.
If you don’t, read a book or take a basic accounting class. Money is what matters—even for charitable organizations. That’s what most executives really care about. You should care about it, too.
Whether you’re an employee or a consultant, you should know the financial condition of the organizations you work for and with. Yes, that means math and numbers. Get over it. You can’t avoid it.
To this day I don’t understand algebra, but I can pretty reliably tell you if an organization is winning or losing based on the three financial documents I mentioned above. That’s how the people who matter most keep score, and so should you.
6. PR is connected to psychology.
A bit of psychology is necessary when you’re a PR professional. If you’re smart, you’ll learn about basic human motivations and apply them to the organizations you work with. Observe what motivates them and how others respond.
If you don’t know what keeps the people important to the organization up at night, you can’t sell them anything. People buy or support something based on how they think that choice will make them feel about themselves. You have to make them feel good that they chose you.
7. Lawyers are your friends.
Some of the smartest decisions I ever made, or advised my clients to make, were the result of my understanding of legal issues. When you offer PR advice to clients, make sure you have some understanding of the legal issues that come into play. Think about what could come back to bite you or the organizations you work with.
Make friends with attorneys and ask smart questions. Lawyers will respect you if you respect them and their function. It’s a good idea to know the legal team before you find yourself in a fast-moving crisis. That’s why I always ask for a briefing from the legal department when I start a new assignment. It’s just good business.
8. Respect reporters.
If you want to be in PR, it’s critical you understand and respect reporters and others who can influence the outcome of an assignment.
They’re not there to serve your purpose. They have their own tough jobs. Know why your message is important to them and the people they serve, and tell them. Don’t beat around the bush. Shoot straight, and respect their time, brainpower and obligations. They’ll typically do the same for you.
These are just some basic tips you need to know to succeed in PR. Success in public relations is much more than good writing skills.
Being a successful PR pro means you have to be one of the best-informed and most curious people in the room. You have to show a willingness to learn, an ability to listen, and an understanding that PR is really all about selling.
What do you think?
Rick Rice is an independent consultant with more than 35 years in public relations working in both corporate and agency jobs. You can find him on Twitter or learn more at his website. This article appeared on PR Breakfast Club.