PR Experiences: A 25-Year Journey

I’ve been saying for some time, “I’m a veteran in PR.” The number of years didn’t hit me, until a few weeks ago when a client introduced me at a training session. He said that I had 25 years in the business.  My reaction … where did the time go? Because the year 2013 marks my 25th year, with this special anniversary will come adventure, new travels, and exciting initiatives in unchartered territory. As I experience what my 25th year has in store for me, I’ll be reflecting on my journey along the way. A quarter of century has taught me so much, and I believe in giving back, so others can learn and prepare for the opportunities ahead.

PR is everything I expected it to be, with a few twists and turns along the way. Of course, these are the kind of experiences, they don’t necessarily teach you in school. You’ll have to wait for my next post to hear about those stories. However, I wanted to start off by saying I was very lucky to have professors in college who taught me what to expect in the PR world; teachings that went beneath the surface. For that I am extremely grateful.

Here are some of the classroom stories and lessons, which came to fruition very early in my career:

  • Although obvious, PR is about relationships. From day one, this concept was a part of every lesson plan and subsequently manifested on first day of my internship program. I was told about the value of great relationships, whether they were with clients, the media, or the employee in my own company.  What was the takeaway from this message?  Don’t just reach out to people when you need them. People can see right through this intention. If you want a good relationship, then you have to share and help people. You need to be recognized as a resource at many different intervals.  Giving is one of the first steps to a reciprocal relationship. Sometimes that means giving a lot at first, more than you receive. I continue to teach this very same principle today.
  • Understand your audiences, right down to who is sitting across from you in the boardroom.  This is a big tip right here … go deeper to learn about people. Doing research is not something just talked about in the classroom or dabbled in when you are in the real world.  Research is everything from knowing your customers (hard core market research) to understanding different kinds of media and their preferences. Doing your homework can also pertain to learning more about the professionals within your own four walls, allowing you to better understand the dynamics of your work teams.  I learned early on that in order to share information, whether it’s in your newsletters, news releases, Twitter stream, Town Hall meetings, or when you’re face-to-face, you have to know what concerns, issues or even general interests are top of mind for the people you want to reach and engage.
  • You are always “on” in PR.  Literally! Even when the camera or the microphones are turned off.  I was lucky to have professors who shared this information with me, rather than me learning the hard way through a work experience.  I remember the big takeaway … watch what you say and do afterward, because that’s when people are listening, watching and learning more (sometimes it’s information that you don’t want them to know). There are some famous off camera quotes. Do you remember, “This is a big f@$#*? Deal.”  What about the “47% percent” remark?  I won’t call out the “who” part or the “when,” but you can Google the details, if you want the 411.
  • PR people take a stance. I remember learning that PR people are active communicators and we’re not really a passive group. Now that doesn’t mean we constantly need to be in the spotlight. Of course, if you are a celebrity publicist, then it’s a completely different story. However, it does mean PR practitioners know how to use powerful words, both spoken and written to make things happen. We use communication to change behaviors and opinions. PR people are known for being well versed on behalf of the clients we serve or even for our own personal brands.  This is why we have to take it upon ourselves to constantly improve our writing and speaking skills.  Practice makes perfect!

There are many more classroom lessons, from understanding people and the sociology of group communications to the difference between good strategy and the tactics that support your efforts.  These were all helpful introductions to the world of PR. Of course, there is nothing like on the job training, and jumping right into the “things” they don’t tell you in school.  After 25 years, whether I expected PR to be the way it was taught by my professors in college, or if I experienced a lot of the “unknown,” for me, the flame still burns bright, fueling my PR passion.

I hope that you will share some of your more memorable takeaways, whether they were in the classroom or not. Those experiences will help your peers to learn and grow.