Essential PR lessons from 40 years in communications

Public relations pros are often fantastic storytellers. This is especially true when it comes to doling out advice. Jot down this pro’s top tips from his decades in the business.

This article was originally published on PR Daily in April 2016.

In communications, sound advice is invaluable.

Four decades of working as a journalist, internal communications executive, external consultant, university instructor and marketer have provided me with countless nuggets of advice from my various mentors.

Emerging PR and marketing pros should always tune in to a mentor’s advice.

Here’s a roundup of tips from communicators who have graciously shared their insights with me.

Be courageous and honest. Presenting, executing and staying loyal to campaigns requires these traits. Don’t devalue or hide from your advice. Far too many communications pros offer their advice wrapped in apologies; don’t do that. Instead, embrace and defend what you have to offer.

Here’s best piece of client advice I have ever heard:

Sometimes you have a PR problem. Other times you just have a problem, and PR has nothing to do with it.

Once in your career—at least—you’ll have to make a difficult decision because your client or colleague won’t understand that he or she has a “problem.” Although it isn’t a PR problem, this person will want a PR solution, and you’ll have to tell them the truth.

What’s the best practice for that? Stick with real-time truths that don’t depend on gimmicks.

Elevate your practice. Don’t dumb down your communications; aim high. Don’t confuse this advice with developing clear communications; I am not disputing that maxim. At some point you’ll have to give stakeholders—and your client or organization—the benefit of the doubt and deliver your best effort. That often means your best thinking.

Then, you must own it. Every document you write has your name on it. Your professional brand is continually being created or altered. An artist doesn’t sign a painting until it is as good as it can be. Apply those same standards to your work.

Identify the decision-makers. When you walk into a room, sit down to write copy or pick up the phone to make a call, affirm whom you aim to reach. Make sure you have a clear concept of your audience. Sometimes we know. Often, we do not know, and yet we strive to hit the bull’s-eye.

Alignment matters. Clients have a commercial business to run, and it’s important to understand that rationale. Although business can get ahead of communications, communications can never get ahead of the business. Understand the business/commercial objective, and develop a communication strategy that aligns with it.

Address the fork in the road. A communicator is not always a strategist, and we don’t always want to be an implementer. A lot of the time, though, we must be both. Finding a balance is vital to your success, so you should be prepared for push and pull.

Those who tell you there’s a “template” for marketing are wrong. Stay far away from them.

Visualize constantly. Your mind’s eye is a valuable tool. For every client, take the time to visualize execution and results. When presenting or pitching, try to get your prospective client to visualize or help the group along with a show-and-tell that demonstrates what results look like.

Examine any unknowns. In addition to visualizing a strategy, approaches and outcomes, you should also plan for how your recommendations will be received. Prepare for everything from possible questions to inevitable pushback from clients. Ask yourself how you would receive the recommendations you make. Never recommend something a client is already doing or that has failed in the past.

Work on your messaging. PR is built on messages that connect with audiences.

Messages are not boilerplate phrases. They are not slogans. They are not bumper stickers. Instead, they are the key themes that help you to touch your audiences in a way that resonates with them. Develop them carefully, and employ them consistently.

Clarity is everything. Insist upon that in your thinking, writing and understanding of your role. Think and talk in bullet points. Write down bullet points when developing a draft, and teach yourself to translate notes from a client meeting into bullet points before your process it.

Keep a key point in your pocket. This is especially true during face-to-face presentations or pitch meetings. Save something you can use at any time.

Use this advice at your own discretion. Those who came before me will thank you.

Michael Geczi is the vice president of marketing and communications at Cast & Crew Entertainment Services. He’s also been an adjunct instructor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. A version of this article originally appeared on his blog.

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Topics: PR

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