PR outside the box: 5 traits of an effective PR leader

by | Jun 20, 2016 | Public Relations

Being a PR professional in today’s rapidly moving, digitally driven landscape certainly has its challenges, but also tremendous opportunities to set yourself apart from others—yet only if you are brave enough to make the jump.

If you are happy with the status quo, and envision a career where you are relegated to sending out boilerplate press releases over a newswire, then you may want to stop reading now and go work on that press release.

However, if you want to learn, grow and build a career where you proudly take a seat at the proverbial table (as opposed to being a “side dish” where your job is to put out fires), then you should continue.

First, ask yourself: Am I ready to be a PR leader? If so, then the following areas are a good place to start in terms of where you should direct your energy. An effective PR leader is all of these things (and more!):

Self-Aware: They understand how their role fits within the organization.

Today’s PR professionals understand the technology, marketing, advertising, content and strategy functions of the organization, including how they fit in among them. Why? Because as communicators, they are responsible for connecting a tremendous amount of dots so the right messages are being pushed out. Aligning public relations with other aspects of the business allows them to amplify everyone’s efforts, not just their own.

Data Driven: They use data to drive everyday decision making.

Practicing PR without data is like skipping sunscreen: It’s totally feasible, but not recommended and will soon become a thing of the past. Without data or metrics, you are essentially practicing old-guard PR that doesn’t position you for leadership or prove your value.

Data enables you to make forward-looking decisions using historical information. However, with data, you may also be inclined to run and hide if it doesn’t make you look good. This is where you have to suck it up and realize that if you want to learn and grow, it’s just as important to embrace and learn from the ugly as it is to highlight the good-looking.

Constructively Opinionated: They speak up.

In essence, leaders are those who have conviction about something, and their opinions are rooted in experience or trustworthy sources of information. If you spend your whole career silencing your voice, what you’re really saying is “I’m not worthy of having an opinion and/or I’m too lazy to assert myself.”

How can we give a voice to clients for whom we work, if we don’t have our own? If we want to lead companies and clients in the right direction, we must speak up. We must build trust by making sound decisions consistently, then develop our own voices—without giving into our smaller selves and cowering in the corner. Get really good at voicing your opinion via thought leadership opportunities, and you could even influence public opinion!

Thoughtful: PR leaders plan with purpose and think outside the box.

Leaders don’t just do things to check something off a list. They critically think about why they are doing something before aiming and firing. Furthermore, they question those around them (even bosses) who encourage check-a-box behavior.

There’s nothing worse than receiving a press release or pitch that hasn’t been given thought in terms of proper targeting. This sends a loud message to the recipient saying: “I don’t value your time, and I’m too busy to put strategic thought behind my actions.”

I have data to support that when you send a thoughtful, targeted story that gets a journalist 50% of the way there, your shot at landing that story increases exponentially. This is a big boost, and it illustrates how spending a little more time on your work in the beginning pays off in the long run.

Brave: They aren’t afraid of getting fired or finding a new role elsewhere.

If you’re working for someone who is demanding you do arbitrary tasks with no foresight, then you should question whether or not your workplace is somewhere that will allow you to grow. This “activity-based approach” to PR is one of the reasons the industry is criticized—it implies to others that we’re all tactics and no strategy.

If you work in PR and consider yourself a leader, you have to question this kind of misguided work. You can’t be afraid to point out fault, even if the thought of doing so is scary. Think about it this way: If the agency you work for isn’t empowering its employees to be all of the things listed above and you continue to work there, your reputation is on the line just as much as the agency’s. A leader doesn’t hand over the reigns to their personal brand and reputation.

Speak up, take charge and find a better fit at a company where leadership and innovation are encouraged. Fulfilling tasks without a greater purpose is just-plain boring anyways.

Guest writer Rebekah Iliff is the Chief Strategy Officer for AirPR, a PR technology company that enables data-driven brands and organizations to measure the impact of their PR efforts. Previously, she was the CEO of talkTECH Communications, one of the fastest growing tech PR firms in the country. She is currently a columnist for Mashable, Inc., Forbes, Huffington Post, and Entrepreneur. Additionally, Rebekah frequently moderates and participates on panels at leading technology and business conferences, and she has presented at countless conferences on the future of PR and big data.

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Rebeka Hiliff


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