I’ve often told people who reported to me that the way to get ahead in our profession is to differentiate yourself from the pack. There are various ways of doing so. For me it was to think outside of the box.
As a novice freelance reporter, I caught the eyes of editors by searching for the aspects of a story that were missed by other reporters. An example was when I was assigned to cover a New York City high school swimming championship. Instead of interviewing the winners after the competition, which I mentioned later in the article, I asked the officials why they were measuring the height of the water and was told that the water in pool was an eighth of an inch less than it should have been and that if it was filled correctly a new record would probably have been established. That story gained me job offers from two dailies.
When I transitioned to the public relations business, thinking outside of the box was frowned upon
Instead, PR tenets that were established decades earlier were the norm. After a year of not being noticed, I decided to revert to my reporting days and suggested ideas that went against the grain.
Three very early examples that caught the eyes of managements:
- For a client that sponsored sporting events on television, I developed a plan on how to watch an event on TV like a pro, a program that I managed for about ten years at a smaller national agency before being recruited by Burson-Marsteller.
- Another was when a sporting goods manufacture that sponsored a handball team asked if I could come up with a publicity idea for the program. I had the team captain claim that handball players were the best conditioned of all athletes and challenged any two athletes from any other sport to a match. Two National League Football League players accepted the challenge and the match became a national news story.
- I convinced several clients to provide input on the importance of multinationalism, packaged the information into a pitch crafted as an opinion column and presented it to political columnists, many of who used the information. That eventually led to me working on U.S. and foreign government accounts, both as a media adviser and account manager, as well as a fixer-upper on other flagship corporate accounts at B-M.
There are many other examples that I could cite that gained media, client and management attention because of my discarding the acknowledged and stale PR rules. My advice to PR practitioners trapped inside the box is to think outside of the box, with an important caveat: If your ideas don’t work, you might find yourself out of a job.
In these days when communications schools grads are being turned out faster than a computerized cookie line, job security is an oxymoron
Because of the “team effort” philosophy, it is more difficult than ever for management to know who is doing what. Many practitioners have told me that their contributions are not known to top management and that often the team leader will herald the work of an individual because of close personal relationships.
If you’re in such a position you must find a way to let top management know of your contributions or you will soon be given your walking papers. There are various ways of doing so.
Here are a few:
- If a client praises your work, ask if he or she would please write a note saying so. Once you receive it, send it to top management.
- At creative meetings, keep your best ideas to yourself. Then, after the meeting, write an “I just thought of these ideas” memo to your team leader and the person who conducted the meeting. This will provide you with a document detailing your contribution that can be sent to top management when needed.
- There is no such thing as a perfect PR program. Every program I’ve seen can be improved. During the drafting of a program, follow the above. Just make certain that your memo has well-defined ideas on how the program could be improved.
- If after a year of so you find that your team leader is not giving you the credit for your input (which is usually the case), you have two decisions: Look for another job or use the nuclear option—forward all of the memos you have written and send them directly to top management and ask for a hearing.
Doing so will upset your team leader
After a year or so at Burson-Marsteller, when all my ideas and other contributions were blended in with other reports, I used the nuclear option and went directly to the CEO and president and made my case. From that point on, my career at B-M sky rocketed.
If you’re creative, thinking out of the box will catch top management’s eyes, but only if they know about it.
Two other bits of good advice:
- Never complain to Human Resources. Their job is to support management, not you.
- Never confide in anyone about how others are usurping your work. The person you confided in might be the office pipeline to your team leader in which case you might find yourself on the firing list.