Relationship Lessons Learned After a Decade in PR
Last month, I hit a career milestone and joined the exclusive decade club at our firm. With ten years of PR experience under my belt, I began to reflect on some of the most important lessons I have learned, and the common denominator is one word: relationships. Here are the musings of someone who has been in the PR trenches for over ten years now, and the major relationship lessons I have to share.
We’re in the business of building relationships. Stronger, and more fruitful relationships are forged through time and effort. As your own personal career progresses, so too does the career of each person you meet along the way. In one instance from my personal experience, a media friend that started off running a tech blog has gone on to work for major publications such as Mashable and CNN. Another has gone from reviewing garage door controllers to becoming the smart home reviewer for distinguished publications like The Verge.
You never know which direction your contacts’ careers will take. This framework is true for clients as well as press contacts. An internal client point of contact that used to be a part of the marketing team may very well go on to run marketing for another company. Through dependability, responsiveness, and reliability, you can forge relationships that open doors to new media opportunities for existing clients—or be top-of-mind when it’s time for a company to integrate PR into their program. Nurture every relationship, and you’ll be surprised by the places you and your peer network go.
We are all human: Act like one
In the early stages of my career, communications were bot-like. Email pitches were too long, overly formal, and lacked any sense of the human element. On conference calls with clients, I was quieter, more reserved, and less personable. While functionally this worked, it did nothing to help me enrich the relationships I was forming. This all changed when I received a piece of advice from a press friend that fundamentally reshaped my media and client viewpoint: “Don’t always be pitching”.
This advice completely transformed the way I positioned my communications. I took it as permission to just be more human, and see both clients and press through the less intimidating lens that they’re people too, just trying to do a job like me. This set me on the pathway to begin developing relationships. I evolved from the industry-typical “PR flack” into an individual committed to helping my clients succeed and dedicated to serving as a resource press could trust and rely on. We’re not working robots. Treating those in my orbit as fellow humans on a career journey of their own unlocked an entirely new way of thinking that up-leveled the work I was able to produce.
You don’t know what you don’t know
The alternative, bombshell header for this section is “the client isn’t always right.” Given my line of work, I realize the disruptive nature of that statement. Hear me out. Our firm values each of our clients—but they are the experts in what they do, and we’re the experts in what we do. When a client comes to a firm with an idea, a responsible PR partner does not blindly accept. We work with that company as an extension of their team to educate and help direct.
A client does not know what they do not know. Thus, one of the most impactful pieces of advice I can give is to not go through a PR career without respectfully pushing back and providing constructive feedback or advice. People want a real partner: someone who will take their call because they care about their business. A good partner doesn’t just do what they’re told: They contribute, guide, and direct within their domain of expertise.
Five years into this job, when asked, “what’s your favorite part about PR?” I would have answered that it was the fast-past environment and ever-evolving nature of the gig. Today however, with over a decade of PR experience, my answer would be that the people I’ve met along the way, the relationships I’ve forged and ones still to come (client and press) are the best part of this job and what make every day rewarding.