Stop calling yourself a PR strategist, punk

Are you sick of inexperienced people giving themselves that title without spending time in the trenches?

I’m constantly astonished at how many people describe themselves as a “strategist” and think that by doing so, avoid all the work they don’t want to do. Whether it’s planning and budgeting, client project execution or measuring the outcomes, some people seem to think that by calling yourself something different, you can avoid learning about critical elements of a communications function.

I know I’m going to piss a lot of people off here, but in my opinion you can’t be an effective strategist until you’ve got some experience to rest behind it.

Mashable recently published a post that nicely explains my frustration. It’s entitled “What Does It Take To Be a Social Strategist?” The key points:

1. About a third of companies look for at least six years of experience when looking for a social strategist.

2. Ninety-two percent of social strategists are manager-level or higher.

3. Key success factors include:

  • Rallying stakeholders across the organization
  • Leading multi-faceted, cross-departmental efforts
  • Having a long-term, customer-centric vision
  • Being multi-disciplinary and wearing “many hats”

Sounds intense, right? So why do I encounter so many inexperienced people giving themselves that title?

When I started working in communications, after doing a few internships during school, I spent four years analyzing quality assessments of communications plans in the public sector.

Sounds mind-bogglingly boring, right? On the contrary, I think that experience set me up fabulously to succeed later. I looked at poor plans and learned to spot what wouldn’t work. I looked at good plans and learned how they effectively fit together. I did the same for tactical materials.

Later I moved jobs, began executing things myself and learned from my mistakes. I organized a media event that I thought was near-perfect but that had zero media show up. I had drafts returned to me by editors marked with so much red ink, you could barely read the original draft.

On the flip side, I also wrote a release that got verbatim pick up on the front page of tier-one media (I still have a copy of that paper!), and led programs that delivered great results for clients. In short: I learned.

You can’t just flip a switch and consider yourself a strategist without gaining experience in these areas. You need to get in the trenches, get your head down and learn.

What’s more, there’s a lot more to strategy than just idea creation. Until you’ve gained enough experience to know (the majority of the time, at least) what is and isn’t likely to work, be quiet and learn.

If you think you just flip a switch and become a master strategist overnight without gaining the experience needed, you’re not a strategist. You’re just a punk.

Dave Fleet is vice president of Digital in Edelman’s Toronto office. A version of this article originally ran on his blog.

Topics: PR

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