Gini Dietrich

Five Things You Can Do to Be Successful in PR

By: Gini Dietrich | February 7, 2013 | 
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I was trolling through our Google analytics the other day and found several people had come here by Googling,”How to be successful in PR.”

Spin Sucks is the first listing in search rankings for that phrase. Which is great! But it isn’t.

You see, the post is more than two years old and it’s written by a guest author. Not that that’s bad. It isn’t. We love our guest bloggers, which is why Lindsay Bell honored the top 10 from last July through December just yesterday.

But the post is more about how to be successful with media relations than public relations, overall. And, if the vision of this blog is to change the perception of the industry from one of spin doctors, we might need to own more than the first listing in search results for that phrase.

So here you go…five ways you, too, can be successful in PR. (By-the-way, trolling through your analytics to see how people are finding you is an excellent way to curb writer’s block. You know, not that I have it or anything.)

Be Curious

I love to tell the story that when I started my career, my job was to make copies of the clip books. In color. It wasn’t THAT long ago, but back then, the color copiers took something like four minutes per page (it was horribly painful). And I had to change the toner at least twice every time I worked on this project (so I could have also been a copy repairman). What did I do with all that time while the black and then the magenta and then the blue and then the yellow ran across the pages? I read the articles.

I didn’t even realize doing that would help my career, but about six months in, I was sitting in on a meeting and the client asked a question that none of the more senior professionals could answer. I shyly raised my hand (I was VERY shy back then) and answered it. All because I read those stupid articles. You know, the ones the PR team had placed. Every last word of them.

Read a Ton

One of my very favorite questions to ask during interviews is, “What are you reading right now?” You’d be shocked at how many people say, “I don’t have time to read because I am so dedicated to my job.” I think they must think that’s the right answer, but it couldn’t be more wrong. The more you read – and the more you read a lot of different things – the better writer you become. And the better writer you become, well, see number three.

Write More

It’s no surprise content is taking over the world. A few years ago, my dad said, “I’m surprised you decided to start and grow a business. I always thought you’d write.” What he doesn’t realize is how much writing I do every day. Some of it is because it’s what I love, but some of it is because of where our industry is going.

If you’re aren’t consistently writing (as in, daily), you won’t know how to write compelling, informational, and valuable content for your customers. In fact, you’ll have no idea what they want because you’re not getting consistent feedback through your content.

Continue Your Education

Arment Dietrich is at the point, right now, we can either stay comfortable at the size we are or I can get out of my own way so we can grow exponentially. Because I’d like to do the latter, I hired a leadership coach to help me. Just like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods have coaches, it’s important for leaders to have them, as well.

Last week, we were talking about my goals and I said I wanted to get my work hours down to 12 a day. He said, “What will you do with the extra 30 hours in your week?” At the time, I didn’t have an answer (other than cook and ride my bike and write more, which I already do).

Then I realized I really want to take some courses outside of my core expertise. I’m looking at Coursera to learn more about programming, developing, and algorithms. You don’t have to take official courses like that, but if you read more (see number two), you’ll organically continue your education.

Network and Get Involved

At some point in your career, particularly if you’re on the agency side, a boss will tell you part of your career growth includes business development. As PR professionals, we are not trained sales people. Networking is what will save you. Suddenly the people you consider friends because you serve on boards with them (get involved with PRSA or IABC, stat!) will become your biggest allies in finding new business.

I’ll stop there because this is getting long (though I could easily add: Do lots of research, commit to understanding how a business makes money, track your results to an organization’s goals, make friends in other departments so you can figure out how their job affects what you do, ask to job trade with a colleague, use social media for yourself so you understand the nuances of it from a business perspective, write a book, and focus…hmmmm…maybe there is a second blog post in here).

What would you add to this list?

(Ignore this…I’m testing Google+.)

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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85 responses to “Five Things You Can Do to Be Successful in PR”

  1. belllindsay says:

    I’m going to add this: If you’re just starting out, and in a junior position, don’t get all attitudinal about it. You don’t walk out of school and into a job and sit in the CEO chair. Well, not usually. Shrug that chip off your shoulder, and embrace the position you are in. Because guess what? It’s PRIME!! You don’t have anywhere near the level of stress those above you do, you can interact with every level and/or department in your organization, you have frequent access to top-end confidential information due to your so-called menial tasks (as Gini mentions above, the photocopier, etc.) AND you can influence and impress many more people just by being there and ready to pitch in whenever it’s required (and jeeze, don’t wait to be asked). I can’t even *count* the number of coffees I poured or big-wigs I had to pick up from the reception desk and escort into high level meetings when I was just starting out in TV land. Bonus perk? Sitting in on those meetings in case anyone needed more coffee! 😉 See above re: access to top-end confidential information. Ultimately, you will be recognized as a reliable team player and someone who can be called upon to deliver. And education aside, those are two key traits that people look for when hiring.

    • ginidietrich says:

      @belllindsay AND I would add…as a business owner, anyone who steps up, is always willing to help when I ask, and goes the extra mile without being asked is going to be trusted and relied on very quickly. That doesn’t matter how much (or little) experience you have.

      • belllindsay says:

        @ginidietrich True dat.

        • stevenmcoyle says:

          @belllindsay  @ginidietrich  The best advice I’ve ever received is “The person who excels at work is the person who can walk into their manager’s office, take some work off their plate and complete it. Always ease the stress of your superiors, never add to it.” 
           
          In a junior position, (especially since I was in that position only a year ago) you have to think like a hungry intern. Too often when junior associates finally start getting paid, they feel as though they are above something. I agree with Lindsay, leave the chip on your shoulder at home. It will only get in the way of your work.

        • ginidietrich says:

          @stevenmcoyle  @belllindsay Would it be really bad if I printed this out, had it laminated, and gave it to everyone here?

        • belllindsay says:

          @ginidietrich  @stevenmcoyle Just print and laminate the “agree with Lindsay” part. 😉

  2. We’ve had this discussion a few times before, @ginidietrich , and I can’t emphasize enough the importance of thinking like a creative generalist. I self-identify as an autodidact. I love learning new skills, and it’s made me more marketable to employers, clients, and partners while strengthening my core competencies as a writer and strategic thinker. 
     
    For most of the work that I do, I have to work closely with developers and designers, and being able to speak a common language makes us all more efficient.

  3. ElissaFreeman says:

    Great advice – reading a ton is key.  I mean everything, from The Atlantic Monthly to NY Post  Page Six. I also completely agree with @jasonkonopinski – being a “creative generalist” is key; knowing a little about a lot is key to growth and development in our industry. It also makes us valuable to our colleagues and clients.

    • ginidietrich says:

      @ElissaFreeman  You know what you do really well that others could learn? You take your curiosity and learning beyond the things one would think would be helpful in your career through content development through food as your passion.

  4. KenMueller says:

    Great stuff that aligns well with my post today  about learning and not being stupid (and which you helped me on, thank you!). This is why I love working with a wide variety of clients. I learn so much. I have two clients who are chefs, one of whom owns a restaurant. I always learn a ton every time I talk to them. And, well, I love learning about food….

  5. ToniAntonetti says:

    Great post!  A related point: Be resourceful: We’re in a sometimes unpredictable business, so always have a plan B, and even C for every project. Also — invest in the best PR tools, including databases and apps, that enable you to do the busywork more efficiently, so you can concentrate on creative work.

    • ginidietrich says:

      @ToniAntonetti A long, long time ago, I worked with a very famous (now, not then) celebrity chef via a client. He needed clarified butter and we were about 50 miles from the closest grocery story, which was a Walmart. As it turns out, Walmart does not carry clarified butter, but I quickly discovered you can make it if you reduce unsalted butter. I looked like a hero and the chef – whose ego proceeds him – never forgave me for making him look silly (I’m not a chef, after all). I say that to prove your “be resourceful” point.

  6. I don’t know if a week goes by that there isn’t at least one post on Spin Sucks that motivates me and this week this is that post. I couldn’t agree with you more about reading. I would go farther and suggest reading a lot of different genres and styles. 
     
    Your points about networking are so true for PR pros.  It’s always about the relationships that we build, right?  As someone who works in a virtual office, I also rely on networking to keep me engaged and inspired with the profession.  
     
    Would love to see a follow up post with even more great ideas!

    • ginidietrich says:

      @HeatherTweedy You made my day by saying you learn something at least once a week here. Now my goal is to provide something twice a week for you. In fact, I just made myself a sign that is hanging above my desk. It says, “What will Heather learn from this?”

  7. Thanks Gini. I was so in the mood for learning today. And I have. Here. Thanks.

  8. aimeelwest says:

    Great ideas I really like the “make friends in other departments” “and “job trade” people always laugh how I know so many varied people that I have friends or know someone that does just about everything 🙂 I think it helps to make you a more varied person and plus it’s fun to talk and learn more different people.

    • ginidietrich says:

      @aimeelwest ESPECIALLY if it’s someone in accounting. They can teach PR pros so much….things you wouldn’t necessarily learn unless you run a business (and then it’s a pretty expensive lesson).
       
      BTW, I’ve been thinking a lot about your question regarding so many women being the breadwinners. I don’t know how to answer it…yet.

      • aimeelwest says:

        @ginidietrich That is so funny that you mention accounting. Our accountant is going crazy with an outside contractor that is turning in really messy invoices. She is always complaining how people with a business should take at least 1 accounting class or talk to a professional to get help getting set up.
         
        No rush on the answer. Thanks for letting me know you are still deep in thought 🙂

  9. Sean McGinnis says:

    Sorry. My spin sucks commenting quota was surpassed yesterday…

  10. PattiRoseKnight says:

    Network and get involved is a great tip just be careful you aren’t the only one volunteering.  For me it would be network and get involved but with boundaries.  And your final comment about making friends in other departments so you can figure out how their job affects what you do is so on target. Great tip!

    • stevenmcoyle says:

      @PattiRoseKnight “Network and get involved but with boundaries.”
       
      I love that. I think often people throw around the “network” term, but never explain how to do so properly. When I was in school, it was all about business cards. Senior year I ended up with a stack of business cards and nothing else, but a list of volunteer experience that employers didn’t really are about. It’s very important for professionals to grasp the concept of what it means to actually network within boundaries.

      • PattiRoseKnight says:

        @stevenmcoyle getting involved vs. volunteering are totally different.  And you’re right potential employers really aren’t interested in that one bit.  Don’t get me wrong – getting involved is important but being the only one volunteering gets old really fast.  My two cents.

    • RebeccaTodd says:

      @PattiRoseKnight Exactly! I was taught that you have to monitor relationships with your internal customers as carefully as with your external customers.

    • lizreusswig says:

      @PattiRoseKnight LOL – sounds so much like me!  I need to tie my hands down sometimes!! 🙂

    • ginidietrich says:

      @PattiRoseKnight That’s because YOU are a people pleaser and you want to help everyone.

  11. Networking is critical, but I need to remind myself to focus especially when looking at conferences to attend or pitch proposals.

  12. allenmireles says:

    How interesting. We are on a similar wave length. I hired a coach just this week and am so excited about what I expect to learn in the next several months. AND, I am also looking at a course to improve my WordPress skills. Ha! I love the idea of continual learning and intellectual growth. We become so much more effective in our work as we continue to learn grow. 🙂

  13. lizreusswig says:

    Great post & even better is the title could read Five Things You Can Do To Be Successful In ANYTHING!  So simple, yet so easy to forget these basics when we get caught up in the day-to-day!

    • RebeccaTodd says:

      @lizreusswig Exactly! Applies to pretty much any job, I think.

    • ginidietrich says:

      @lizreusswig I thought about that, but I’m not sure writing is applicable to anything. Other than that, I do think they all apply to almost any job.

      • lizreusswig says:

        @ginidietrich Oh, I don’t agree…I think writing well is key for so many jobs.  Even if it’s simply being able to write a well-crafted business letter, oops, I mean text or email or post or tweet…haha!  Honestly, I think your tips apply to not only the workplace, but are good advice for life in general!

  14. Great idea re: Coursera. I took a course on gamification and found it challenging and enriching; it felt great to think about new ideas and get out a pencil and paper to work problems out.  We are so lucky to have all this great learning so easily accessible. It’s just finding the time between working, cycling, writing, Downton Abbey, etc 🙂

    • ginidietrich says:

      @rideboulderco You did?! Mr. D took that one, but he didn’t really tell me what he learned.
       
      And OMG Downton Abbey. I just got caught up while I rode the trainer this morning. I’m so mad about Sybil.

  15. I’m going to do some trolling in Google Analytics today…not that I have writer’s block or anything 😉

  16. Arment Dietrich, Inc. says:

    There is no stupid question – it’s better to ask than do something wrong ^pk

  17. jdrobertson says:

    I am fond of saying, “A problem well defined is a problem well on the way toward a solution.” So! You hired a Leadership Coach (whatever that is). Can you tell me the difference between a CEO and a leader? Did you – between you – define “leadership?” Would you say, “A leader is not paid for what he does – rather for what he can get others to do?” Do you believe a leader is more interested in his people or the bottom line? “Both” is not an option!

    • ginidietrich says:

      @jdrobertson I’m not sure there is a difference between a CEO and a leader because you can be both. That said, a CEO cannot be a leader and a leader doesn’t necessarily mean he/she is a CEO. For me, the leadership coach is helping with things like delegation and coaching and mentoring my own team so they learn and grow, which helps the business grow. I’m a control freak so he’s helping me learn how to give up control in ways that are comfortable for me. In answer to your last question, if the leader is only interested in the bottom line, the bottom line will shrink. When you invest in people, you’ll achieve your goals.

  18. stevenmcoyle says:

    I’ve been toying with idea of taking a coding course. I’m a big advocate of always continuing your education. Growth is big part of life, and if I’m not learning I feel as if I’m not growing. 
     
    PS. Has anyone answered your reading question with, “I’m reading Marketing in Round at the moment.” ?

  19. sher_32 says:

    Great post  Gini.I feel like our roles as PR professionals continue to change and we must expand our knowledge and skill sets as well as embrace and understand technology.

  20. Shonali says:

    I feel that as PR professionals, we are *natural* sales people. Those of us who network well – and there are many who don’t – find business naturally, which is, of course, a huge asset to the biz dev side of things. Where we have trouble, I think, is systematizing that process, and I’m trying to get better at doing that.
    And I have to ask – if you are trying to get your working hours DOWN to 12 a day, what on earth are they currently?!

    • @Shonali You don’t want to know. She’s insane.

      • HowieG says:

        @jasonkonopinski  @Shonali she told me from 11am-3pm she is at the spa blogging from her blackberry….every weekday. Then she watches Oprah and Ellen.  Add in trips to the park with Mr. D and JB she is really busy!
         
        As for natural sales people yes sometimes in PR during crisis management you might have to lie to your audience (we have no proof the oil spill is bigger than a minor leak, global warming is not due to humans, tobacco is safe) and the only other people who are that good are sales people. i know I was one and had to hang out with those turnips hearing the BS non-stop.
        And don’t get me wrong PR has an excuse sometimes no matter what ethical stand you take your employer or client threatens to fire you if you don’t fib or spin. And most people won’t take a stand like that especially if they are making good money (aka sales people)

        • RebeccaTodd says:

          @HowieG  @jasonkonopinski  @Shonali Wait…did you just call me a turnip? I resemble that remark! Apparently I have a ways to go to prove that salespeople aren’t all lying turnips.

        • giesencreative says:

          Of course, there are arguments that starting off on a non-lying foot puts you in a better position as you weather the crisis. @HowieG @jasonkonopinski @Shonali

        • ginidietrich says:

          @HowieG  I thought we were friends, but by the sheer fact you said I have a BlackBerry tells me we’re not @jasonkonopinski  @Shonali

    • ginidietrich says:

      @Shonali The problem, I think, is so many people think of sales as the gross used car salesman who is creepy and wears lots of gold chains. We have to change the thinking and, you’re right…it’s about relationships and asking questions and finding the problems we can then solve.
       
       @jasonkonopinski is right. You don’t want to know. Let’s just say I did not reach my goal in January. Not even close.

  21. Cision North America says:

    Love this post! Just shared it on our Facebook page – couldn’t resist!

  22. Arment Dietrich, Inc. says:

    Thanks Cision North America!

  23. RebeccaTodd says:

    Excellent list for any career! As the resident sales person, I have to say all of these tips apply to my role as well. Not only does my voracious appetite for the written word make me long winded and pompous, it also teaches me best practice, both within my field and in a much broader context. I am anti-silo in almost every environment (except farming), so while this is a PR blog, I always find many take-aways that inform my day to day routine, from how to work with internal customers, external customers, or even wow-ing my new boss (who just happens to be a “PR Guy”).
     
    Really, I wanted to comment just to say this- in my mind, little wee Gini is in pig tails, shyly raising her hand in a business meeting…so adorable! Big change from the Roboboss we all know and love.

    • ginidietrich says:

      @RebeccaTodd I just left a client meeting where the sales team is not aligning with marketing. I’m having trouble finding the right solutions. I may need to buy you that bottle of wine soon.
       
      Also…there were not pig tails, but a chin length bob and I was so shy and nervous, I bit my fingernails down to little nubs.

  24. Learn, learn, learn. Never stop learning, but have a plan attached to what you are learning so that what you spend your time on is worth spending time on.

  25. magriebler says:

    To this outstanding list (including the insightful comments) I would add: Learn to quantify your work so that you can always demonstrate your potential impact on the bottom line (or the organization’s mission, if you’re on the nonprofit side as I am). That means taking the time to set achievable goals and measurable outcomes for everything you do. There have been many great Spin Sucks posts on this topic, so I won’t reinvent the wheel. But too often PR is overlooked because senior management thinks it doesn’t make a dent in the strategic plan. Show them HOW and WHY it does.

    • RebeccaTodd says:

      @magriebler once again, solid advice for any field. Thanks!

    • giesencreative says:

      @magriebler Great point. I know I get caught in the trap of pushing through a workday to get things done, without focusing enough on what I’ve accomplished. It’s not just about proving your value to your boss or organization (though that’s the priority). You also feel more accomplished and confident when you KNOW what you’re contributing.

      • ginidietrich says:

        @giesencreative  Dude. Where have you been?! Working or something??

        • giesencreative says:

          @ginidietrich Ha, mostly. I got my applocation essay in for a degree completion program – that had been sucking up quite a bit of my mental processing power. Twitter’s the only place that’s been seeing much of any of me!
          I guess that ties into continuing education, doesn’t it?

    • ginidietrich says:

      @magriebler I’m faced with a conundrum right now. We do all of that (as you can imagine) and I am now presented with an opportunity (surely I’ll see it as an opportunity after I cool down) to measure things differently even thought we had a 6:1 ROI on our 2012 efforts. My point is, you have to continue to grow and become more sophisticated each year with how you measure those efforts to real results.

  26. […] Dietrich has five tips on how to be successful at […]

  27. kateupdates says:

    Ah … This post is near and dear to my heart. I can say that your tips are right on the money because I am a testament of these tips in action. If you’re committed to learning and reading and being curious, you can grow yourself exponentially at a surprisingly rapid pace.
     
    I went from working with bloggers as a media relations pro to being a blogger with a faithful and growing following in a matter of months! Now, just 5 months later, I made a brand for myself and launched my own business. The more you read and try things, the faster you can bloom into a more well-rounded PR professional. And, you will meet some fabulous, intriguing friends along the way. 
     
    Don’t have time? Try getting up earlier!

  28. kevinanselmo says:

    I enjoyed this post and very much think it applies to communicators as well as other professions for that matter. While you couldn’t say this directly because it would be self-serving, I would suggest that all communicators read the Spin Sucks blog regularly! It is amazing to me the wealth of knowledge that exists out there about our profession. For example, I have found blogs like Spin Sucks and podcasts like For Immediate Release and Inside PR to be incredible resources for keeping abreast about the latest in PR / communications. While it would seem like a no-brainer to tap into these and other resources regularly, I am surprised that so many communicators don’t take advantage of the learning available at our fingertips.

  29. […] And finally, in line with my previous article on Nuts about PR, here are 5 things you need to do in order to be successful in Public Relations. […]

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