Guest Post: The Shaping of PR Superstar (part two)

This is part two of a guest post is from Marilyn Hawkins of Hawkins & Company PR. In part one, she listed 1 – 10. Here she rounds out the 25 qualities that will set you apart in the PR industry.

If you’re serious about the public relations business, you can never settle for being
just an average professional. Here are 25 ways to shine – waaaayyy beyond the solid list of tactical skills and basic attributes you may have acquired already. There are probably 2,500 qualities of a great public relations practitioner, but I’ll only tick off the top one percent. Are these in any particular order? Nope. They’re just as random and chaotic as the average PR pro’s typical workday.

So, what do you have to do – or be – in order to walk on water?

11. Tolerant of contradictory points of view. You must be able to see all facets of a problem, then propose a workable synthesis – without unnecessarily alienating any important stakeholder(s). Rarely are important decisions clear-cut. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of a small mind.”

12. Commanding of attention when necessary. If you have good ideas, make sure people get an opportunity to hear them. Be able to call attention to yourself – without making anyone squirm about your motives or your messages.

13. Thick-skinned and able to handle rejection and learn from it. Let’s call this the gift of a cast-iron stomach and a bulletproof business heart. Ambiguity, misdirection, contradiction, sarcasm, disingenuousness, passive aggressiveness—they’re all served up daily in a typical high-stress PR job. The counterparts of those negatives appear equally, but people often only hear the tough stuff. Your mantra must be: “Even great bosses and wonderful clients have really crummy days.”

14. Engaging – and comfortable conversing with complete strangers, at length if necessary. Then actually remembering most of what they said. In a field where we sometimes get paid to talk, listening is a vastly under-rated skill.

15. Perceptive and adaptive. Able to assess and then quickly mirror another person’s behavior and key characteristics. “People like people like themselves…” No, you don’t have to convert from one religion to another to impress someone. Just be able to see and quickly align your commonalities.

16. Gregarious and likeable: One characterization of a great PR person is “the one passenger who knows and says ‘hey’ to everyone in the elevator – from the janitor to the CEO.” If you’re not naturally outgoing and generous of spirit, commit to working harder at it. You want to be seen as the smiling golden retriever at the door, not the snarling pit bull or sad-faced Bassett hound.

17. Willing to admit your mistakes, then rectify the situation. Coupled with that is the skill to recover quickly and recycle to peak performance. Sports shrinks know that a big factor separating professional athletes from talented but hapless semi-pro jocks is the ability to move on after a mistake. Don’t sweep your screw-ups under the rug. Learn from them, don’t agonize and get right back on track.

18. Possessing a highly refined, appropriate and visible sense of humor. And the absolute best kind of humor is self-deprecating. Show people that you take your work seriously, but not yourself seriously.

19. Unafraid of conflict – and strong enough to be the bad cop if warranted. Also, it’s good to cultivate the knack of saying unpleasant things at just the right moment. When do people change? When they have to—and not a minute before. You’ve got to find the precise opening to share bad news and offer up curative cod liver oil. Most conflicts, interpersonal or international, arise over issues of power. One way to prompt an undesirable but necessary step is to show how the person gains a measure of power, not cedes it all.

20. Able to speed up without hurrying. Most of us are yawning Ferraris at work, moving along in second gear. When things get crazy, suddenly we’re up to sixth and the engine overheats. That leads to poor decision-making, ill-advised shortcuts and painful “What were we thinking?” moments. True PR pros glide through any level activity or anxiety, never losing the skill to plan the work and work the plan.

21. Easily accepting of responsibility and authority; not always looking for somewhere to push off work or blame. Never be shy of doing the heavy lifting and always be willing to take on the toughest assignments. Anyone can succeed on the easy projects – only superstars can improve truly impossible situations.

22. An enabler, in the best sense of that word. “You can accomplish anything you want, as long as you don’t care who gets credit for it,” said former Louisiana Congresswoman Lindy Boggs. Often, you need to play multiple roles simultaneously: strategist, producer, confessor and/or cheerleader.

23. Exhibiting patience beyond the saints. Don’t talk before someone is willing and able to hear you. “A worried mind retains nothing….” Don’t pitch your ideas or solutions until someone is ready to accept them. Constantly tell yourself: if not today, then tomorrow.

24. The capacity for keeping your head while everyone around you is losing theirs. At bottom, we’re all pack animals. If the alpha dog gets nervous and cranky, it spreads quicker than ringworm. You must project a genuine sense of grace under pressure. That’s the only reason anyone will ask for and accept your input.

25. Finally, the forbearance to take direction from seeming fools. Anyone with an inquiring mind and a decent sense of self will chafe at being ordered about or schooled by lesser mortals. There are few worse deals than taking clues from the clueless. The problem is that, sometimes, you don’t know what you don’t know. Hear before you judge; understand before you opine; and think before you act.

Marilyn Hawkins is a corporate communications consultant based in Ashland, Ore. You can reach her at mhawkins@prhawk.com.

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