Balancing a Reverse Coaching Role as a Young PRo

Most entry-level PR PRos will start in a technician role, participating in the “craft” side of public relations: writing, editing, taking photos, running special events and doing the legwork of media relations. The technician implements the management’s communication strategies.

I always try to focus on helping students show that, while they have the skills to be a technician, that they have the capacity for the problem solving, planning and counsel that is required of managers.

With social media, I think we’re seeing entry-level practitioners, well-versed in the tools of the trade, being asked to provide solutions, the strategic planning and serve as “reverse coaches.” I was chatting with my friend and colleague Pat McCormick from Conkling Fiskum McCormick about how important this “reverse coaching” role is in today’s business, especially in public relations and communications. CFM has hired several Ducks and recognizes how much its entry-level employees have to offer.

The balance, however, is that while, as new employees, you bring much-desired skills to the table, they have much to learn that only experience and strong senior mentors can bring. The way that young PRos get information, exchange information and build relationships is shifting fundamentally the way that we all communicate and they are the natives. I also think that as educators, professionals, employers – and even students – we’re just starting to really get a handle on this shift.

We have the responsibility to help prepare our students for this “reverse coaching” role, and also help them to approach that role with grace, professionalism and an open mind. They have much to learn to from their colleagues to fully realize their potential to be remarkable strategists, problem solvers and counselors.

What do you think about the changing face of communications and the entry-level practitioners role in it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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  • Scott Cornthwaite

    As a soon-to-be graduate, I am kind of scared about this role. There is a hard place between being knowledgeable and teaching someone with far more knowledge in PR that I have. (Disclosure: this is coming from ZERO experience in this topic). I feel like this is an area where a newbie will need to keep the ego in check.

    The flip side of the coin is that the newbie also has a lot to offer a firm. Maybe “quiet confidence” is the best idea. Knowing you have the answer, and being willing to give it to a superior, just not in front of everyone else, out of respect. I could be off-center on this topic, hopefully this adds to the dialogue.

  • Pat

    As Kelli noted, CFM is benefiting from talented young PRos who have grown up natives in a communications world that sometimes seems mysterious and confusing to older professionals. CFM is a firm of experienced communicators. Much of what we old-timers know has come from hard-earned experience and well-nurtured relationships that young PRos can only acquire with time.

    What we have learned over the last two years from interns and entry-level staff (all former interns) has convinced me that today’s young PRos bring important insider understanding of today’s rapidly evolving communications environment. It has been our interns and young PRo staff that energized our social networking successes for clients such as Tillamook Cheese and Tree Top trim®.

    Because I believe, at its core, public relations is about relationships, I see the evolution of communications offering us new and important tools for connecting and engaging people in authentic relationships.

    Students who are well-prepared educationally (as have found UofO students to be) bring value beyond just their education. They also are immersed in an online, mobile network of communications foreign to many of their older colleagues. It’s where many of them have built, maintained and deepened many of their personal relationships.

    Entering the workplace after college is understandably scary. Respecting what you don’t know is important for all of us, not just those fresh to the work world. But I encourage young PRos to recognize the value of what you bring to the workplace from your life lived in a digital world. With your help, we’ll all be better communicators.

  • Stuart Foster

    The only difference between a younger person in PR and an older person in PR is connections and tone. Really.

    Often it just comes from experience and making your own way. That’s how I’ve done it, but then again I’ve never had to do to much b.s. work at an agency and have always run my own show or worked in-house.

  • Tiffany Derville Gallicano

    According to the research I’ve conducted with you and Pat Curtin, the Millennial Generation wants the opportunity to contribute to strategic counsel. Social media guidance is a great opportunity for this.

    I also appreciate Scott’s wise comment about what we call “facework” in the public relations literature: It’s important to make other people look good when you are cultivating relationships.

  • Kelli Matthews

    @Scott: It can be scary to figure out how to negotiate the relationships and find your place, I agree. But I also know that recognizing that you both have a lot to offer AND a lot to learn is a good way to start.

    @Stuart: I guess I’m glad that you haven’t had to deal with what you think is “b.s.,” however these issues have little to do with being a solo pro and/or being in house and more to do with the cultural differences between Millennials and Gen X and Boomers in the workplace.

    In my other life outside of the classroom, I work solo as a consultant and have for 7 years. Even though I’m an “Xer” and not a Millennial, I have to negotiate relationships with clients and with my peers all the time. Just because you’re not at an agency does not mean you don’t have to be gracious, professional and conscientious.

    @Tiffany: Thanks for your comment! It’s interesting to see how all our research plays out in different contexts.

  • Kelli Matthews

    Pat, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here. I so appreciated the email exchange we had and I can see from the quality staff and stellar work that CFM does that everyone feels like they have a place and a role, regardless of their level of experience.