Opinion

10 top tips from a Life in PR


I’ve been working in PR and Communications solidly for the best part of a decade.

And I’ve learnt a few things along the way.  I’ve put 10 of them below and ask: What ones would you add?
1)    Show no fear.  Ever.

This is the most important thing I can tell you about a life in PR.

You might be in the midst of a crisis.  You might be about to defend the truly indefensible.  You might be caught off-guard by a journalist who thinks they’ve found out something juicy.

But no matter what you feel inside, do not, under any circumstances, let this show in your voice or mannerisms.

If there’s a single chink in your armour, someone, somewhere, will try to exploit it.

And the more your nerves show in your voice, the more it sounds like you’ve got something to hide.

2)    Write it down

Keep notes, and plenty of them.  Who said what, when, where and to whom.

You never know when this will come in useful.

And, if a journalist tries to catch you out, you’ve got your own record of events to refer back to.

3)    Never write it down

We’re all familiar with the infamous “It’s a good day to bury bad news”.

Perfect sentiment (let’s face it, most of us in PR have newsjacked for good at one time or another.  We’ve also released to bury at other times.  It’s what we do), but a stonkingly bad idea to put it electronically where it could be forwarded or leaked by anyone with a grudge.

If you get an opportunity that’s too good to miss, you’ve got to ask yourself what it would sound like to someone outside of your team.

If you’ve got any doubts, pick up the phone.  Don’t put it in a written record that’s around forever.

4)    They’re all out to get you

If you’re in fluffy consumer PR, they probably aren’t.  Unless your happy smiley brand of cosmetics or consumer electronics is suddenly embroiled in a child labour scandal, for example.

But if you’re on the sharp end, working to deliver messages that some people probably won’t like, it’s best to remember that everyone really is out to stab you in the back, leak confidential documents and generally make your life a misery.

This mindset sounds unhealthy, but actually it can help you avoid a lot of screw-ups later.

5)    Get a headset

Never, ever, use a handheld phone on a regular basis.

Three principle reasons:

  • It’s exceptionally bad for your posture, especially if you get caught on a long call.  The last thing you want on a stressful day is to crick your neck
  • If you jam the phone between your shoulder and your ear, your neck is put under strain as is your trapezius.  This stress then shows in your voice, because the muscular sensations are the same as those brought on by stressful situations.  If you’re trying to keep your voice level, neutral and honest, you’ll undo all of that effort in one call.
  • Every now and then, we all get those vexacious calls which make you want to bang your head into the desk.  Should you actually want to do this, it’s possible with a headset, but not with a handheld.  Alternatively, a headset leaves you both hands free to eviscerate a voodoo doll to try and bring a more promising end to the conversation.

6)    You’ll get it wrong

It’s OK, we all do.  So long as you’re not making constant screw-ups which cause you to spend more time fire-fighting than actually communicating, don’t sweat it too much.

With any luck, you’ll be left with some egg on your face (see point 1).

If it all goes horribly wrong, you’ll be in the midst of a major crisis (see point 1).

Mistakes happen.  It’s how you deal with them that counts.

7)    Admit when you’re wrong

If you get it wrong, either through miscommunication or being fed dodgy information, admit it at the earliest possible opportunity.

Hands up, mea culpa.  

Then work on putting it right.  Have a debrief, work out where the links in the chain broke, then stop it from happening again.

If you try to cover yourself up, you’ll get caught out sooner or later.  Even point 1 won’t save you then.

8)    Stand your ground

See point 1.  Never, ever get goaded or bullied into saying something that you’ll regret later.

Say in haste, regret at leisure.

If you know you’re right and you have the facts to back it up, stick to it and don’t try to embellish anything which will lead you outside of that which you can prove.

And remember, you don’t always have to field someone for interview.  Journalists will hate you for it, but if you really don’t have anyone available or there is nothing that you can add to the story, be polite but firm.

Sometimes it’s better to add nothing than to field someone to get ambushed.

9)    Trust your gut

I can’t stress this one enough.

Even if everyone around you is telling you that something is 100% accurate and perfect, but your gut is nagging away at you, stop right there.

Check, double check.  Do your own research.

If you issue something that your gut isn’t happy with, and it comes back to bite you in any way, you’re going to deeply regret it later (see point 1. Again).

10)    Never answer a journalist straight away

This is the best piece of advice that I’ve ever received, coming from my first Communications Manager in Local Government.  Someone who, I’m pleased to say, remains a friend many years on and to whom I still occasionally turn for counsel.

Unless a journalist is asking you whether it’s Monday or not, take their question and promise that you’ll ring them back or email them with the details.

Even if they’re asking about your personal MasterMind subject, don’t answer on the fly.

Put the phone down, take a breath and think it through.

Think of all the possible angles which could spin from the question (even if it seems innocuous at first).  Double check the facts to satisfy your gut.

Get what you’re going to say straight in your head, and then re-establish contact.

This moment to breathe has saved me on more than one occasion…

So there we have it.  10 top tips gleaned from my Life in PR.  Do you have any to add?  If so, I’ve love you to comment with them below!

Neil Hopkins is a Marketing and Branding Theorist at heart, and a Marketing Communications Manager by day. His blog – interacter – is the primary location he shares insight and information relating to marketing, branding and advertising strategy.
You can follow Neil on Twitter, circle him (like an escaped bull) on Google+ or track him down in any number of other ways.

Featured image shamelessly snaffled from a brilliant blog piece about the breakdown of a client-PR firm relationship.  It’s well worth reading!

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2 thoughts on “10 top tips from a Life in PR

  1. It’s great to hear tips from someone who has obviously been there and done it. I especially like the advice on admitting when you’re wrong. This is the first step towards getting things right again and you can’t move on without it.

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