How to bulletproof your professional PR career

How to bulletproof your professional PR career

The public relations industry has found itself smack-bang in the middle of inexorable change.

Okay, so the profession hasn’t been as disrupted as bricks-and-mortar video rental stores or bookshops, or even traditional media for that matter. But the sands have definitely shifted beneath the feet of PR practitioners, whether you work externally as a consultant or in-house.

If you’ve been a PR professional for a few years or more and think you can get away with not updating your skills, you’re kidding yourself. Yes, your bosses/clients (in-house/external) might be slow to adapt to the change and so you’re in a warm and comfy place at the moment, no doubt wondering what all the fuss is about. But get a progressive client (or head of PR and comms) — one who knows the lay of the new media landscape and is wanting to take things up a notch or three — and you’re in for a shock akin to one’s very first sip of a kale smoothie.

If you’re reasonably fresh out of uni and are busy stringing together a year or so of practical experience,  you’ve probably already worked out that a lot of the stuff you were taught, while not necessarily incorrect, is probably a little outdated or indeed, perhaps even meandering (hurtling?) towards irrelevance in today’s social age.

First, the good news:

The PR profession is in a terrific position to capitalise on the changes emerging from the new media frontier. Here are four key reasons:

  1. PR has always been about engaging in two-way conversation with constituents — we now have the technology that enables us to do that with scale.
  2. PR has always been about building relationships with our ‘publics’— we now have the technology that enables us to do that with scale.
  3. PR has always been about telling stories and creating interesting content relevant to our audience— we now have the technology that enables us to do that with scale (and at a fraction of the cost comparatively to a few years back).
  4. PR has always been about communicating with influencers and ‘earning’ genuine third-party endorsement— we now have the technology that enables us to do that with scale.

Wow! Sounds like a profession reborn to me.

But there is a caveat:

The public relations industry needs to band together to ensure it moves positively and with purpose along the frontline of the communications revolution, in a way that is going to advance the cause of the profession.

Sure, the ‘C Suite’ dinosaurs are still stalking the halls of corporate Australia, which in turn means their PR people are probably reduced to mere spin doctors obsessed with traditional print and broadcast mediums (at the expense of more broadly engaging influencers and the public at large), but don’t let that stop you advancing your professional prospects.

What about when the ‘old school’ is replaced? And they will be replaced. Where will you fit into that new equation if your skills aren’t up to scratch?

Of course, on the flipside, start building up your attitude and skill-set in line with where communications is heading and you’ll be ready to confidently tackle 2016 and beyond.

Here are some thought-starters:
1. Start a blog

If you’re not maintaining an active blog, you’re missing out not only on the chance to hone your storytelling and writing skills (I cannot overestimate the importance of this), but also vital experience gained in the more technical ‘back-end’ of blogging e.g. optimising posts for search engines, understanding how a platform such as WordPress works, including the ‘basics’ such as uploading images, embedding YouTube videos, or the SoundCloud audio player.

2. Experiment with video/audio

You can read all you like about shooting video or recording a podcast, but it’s not until you have hands-on experience that you’ll truly understand — or at least get a basic ‘handle’ on — how it all works.

If you have a blog that you’re updating on a regular basis, consider recording some video to go along with your articles — experiment shooting with an iPhone, for example — push the boundaries; interview people vox-pop style, incorporate overlay footage. For audio, consider starting your own podcast, perhaps with a couple of friends; publish it regularly to iTunes and build an audience.

If you’ve done this over a period of time and have the runs on the board, you’ll be in a better position to advise clients if and when the time comes.

3. Ramp up your social media efforts

It’s important to build your own personal ‘social proof’ – future employers (and potential clients) will more often or not these days check you out online, including your social channels. Having an active blog, YouTube show, or podcast are chunky examples of social proof, but a ‘body of work’ on social media — for example your tweet stream — will generally also speak volumes about you:

These are all things people can gauge from a person’s tweet stream. And if you’re not on Twitter, why not? That speaks volumes too!

Of course you want a LinkedIn account that does the professional ‘you’ justice. Have you included video on your page, or SlideShare presentations? Do you publish interesting updates on a regular basis, or perhaps blog every now and then on LinkedIn’s blogging platform?

Are you on Instagram or Pinterest? Why not? What about Google+? Do you even know how it works and the type of people who are using it? What about SlideShare, or StumbleUpon? Do you ‘check in’ on Swarm?

Again, doing these things will give you a first-hand experience of how these channels work, but they also contribute to your personal brand over time. Visibility and reputation count for a lot in the professional services business.

4. Get close to bloggers

Get closer to the blogging fraternity. Don’t just limit yourself to building one-on-one relationships with bloggers (and podcasters, YouTubers etc) using social media, but make the effort to attend blogging meetups and events so you get a more genuine and intuitive ‘feel’ for the DIY media landscape.

Find out from bloggers how they prefer to be approached and, importantly, what turns them off in terms of PR pitches. File that information away in your back pocket until such time as you need it (and in all likelihood, you will need it).

5. Embrace the app economy

This is an all-encompassing ‘category’, if I can call it that. Basically, I want you to embrace your inner nerd!

Get into the habit of reading influential technology and digital marketing blogs such as Mashable, TechCrunch, ReadWrite, MarketingLand, Convince & Convert, Re/code or Social Media Examiner. If you’re not reading Copyblogger or listening to its podcast network, you’re already falling behind.

Think expansively! Discover (and dig into) emerging web technology and social networking trends. Get in the digital trenches! What new apps and services are popping up? Jump on to them early – check ‘em out, but don’t forget to share your findings with others!

But it’s not just new and emerging technology.

You should be:

  • aggregating RSS feeds via an online reader such as The Old Reader;
  • experimenting with BuzzSumo to find out what content is hitting the mark with the online audience;
  • setting up an Evernote account and using the app across all of your various devices;
  • testing out audio aggregation services such as Stitcher and SoundCloud (to get an understanding of how audio-on-demand works);
  • purchasing something cool and interesting through (so you know how darn easy that can be);
  • playing with Keyword Finder or ‘computational knowledge engine’ WolframAlpha;
  • checking out online newsroom platforms and information dissemination services such as PitchEngine; or
  • following interesting Twitter hashtag ‘stories’ via Seen.
You get the idea.

It’s not about being an expert across everything, but more so gaining an understanding and a ‘feel’ for where the world is going from a media production and digital communications standpoint. It’s all about nuance, understanding how digital is permeating across all communications channels, and being as well-versed as possible, ideally through experience rather than simply reading about it.

Do this ongoing — every day, make it a habit and you will undoubtedly become a more rounded and digitally sophisticated (and therefore valuable) PR practitioner in the years to come. Which is what the PR industry needs more of if it is to thrive and prosper during these challenging times.

More reading:

PR professionals: Adapt or die!
Why a body of work builds trust in your personal brand
What does a PR professional do anyway?
How you can stay relevant during times of massive change


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Award-winning Australian recruitment agency, Firebrand Talent, ignites the careers of digital, marketing, creative, communications, advertising, & media talent. If you are looking for your next career move, check out the jobs we currently have on in Sydney & Melbourne.


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