As a young professional, I read and listen to a lot of advice from successful leaders on self-improvement and career success.
Most of it is about what we should start doing or do more often. Very rarely do we hear what we ought to stop doing.
From the advice I’ve heard and things I’ve seen, I’ve put together a list of 10 things young PR pros should stop doing if they want to get ahead.
1. Not making mistakes. Time and time again, you hear some of the most successful people talking about what they learned from making mistakes. Yet we’re all afraid of making them. We should make plenty of mistakes—as long as they’re not the same ones over and over. By making plenty of different mistakes, we understand what works and what works better, and we learn a lot.
2. Playing it safe. Most successful PR campaigns—and ideas in general—come from being bold and innovative. If you work at an agency, it’s what clients hire you for. If you’re in-house, it’s what your colleagues rely on you for. Being the most junior person on the team doesn’t mean you should stifle your creative ideas or stay silent about a different way to tackle a challenge. It may give you—and your client or company—an advantage.
3. Not speaking up. Part of having a successful career is knowing when to listen and when to speak up. More often than not, young PR professionals don’t speak up when they have a great opportunity. If you have a different idea or approach, want to question an idea or have valuable insight, speak up. If there’s an event or project you’re interested in, let people know you’re interested. If there’s a skill you need to improve, volunteer for a project that allows you to do that. The worst someone can say is no—and then keep you in mind for future opportunities. There are certainly worse things.
4. Treating media relations like transactions. A pitch does not always result in coverage. Most of the time, it ends up in the trash can. The practice of media relations is not transactional; it’s based on relationships. Many young PR pros don’t take a chance to build a relationship that can lead to a career-long partnership. It can all start with a cup of coffee.
5. Ignoring the numbers. One reason I started working in communications was that I thought I wasn’t a “numbers person.” A lot of young PR pros feel the same way. Here’s the reality: You can’t do PR well if you don’t understand business or finance. You don’t have to be an expert, but you must understand how communications improves the bottom line. It takes some time, but it’s possible—and worth it. Public relations must always have a business value, and if you don’t get “the numbers,” you can’t speak to its value.
6. Monitoring for stories, not trends. Almost every young PR pro starts with media monitoring and media clips. It’s a necessary evil. I’ve learned that media monitoring is really media trends monitoring. Picking up the patterns and interests of reporters, publications and blogs and identifying opportunities are among the most valuable skills you can cultivate. Start this practice early, and you’ll be a real pro before you know it.
7. Thinking everyone else works as quickly as you do. Not every professional, partner or client works as swiftly as the PR pro does. At times, others do not feel the same urgency that we do. Take this into consideration, and plan wisely: Build in more time for approvals and responses, and it’ll save you a lot of stress in the end.
8. Being a generalist. Because there are so many facets to PR, it’s good to know how to do everything (from pitching to social media to event planning). Part of developing a personal brand is choosing one or few strengths and playing to them. Being the go-to person for knowledge, information or input is extremely valuable, so identify those strengths early on and enhance them throughout your career.
9. Accepting the existing process. There is always a better or more efficient way to do things, especially as technology evolves. Too many times, we accept the current process as is, when you could make improvements that save time or money. Young professionals bring that knowledge and an outsider’s perspective to a project, so make sure you’re always looking for ways to improve.
10. Ignoring the work/life balance. It’s very easy to work all the time when you’re in PR. With the many projects and deadlines and the 24-hour news cycle, it’s easy to get caught up in work. But the more you enjoy life outside work, the better you are at work. Remember: There will always be things to do, but we’re only young once.
Seasoned and young pros alike, what would you add to this list?
Julia Sahin works in corporate communications at a large PR firm in New York and is a monthly contributor to Muck Rack. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.