“You hire very well”— We hear this a lot from our clients at Stanton Communications. Particularly when referencing our younger professionals.
Many clients have been so impressed with our staff that they threaten to “hire them away,” something that has happened on more than one occasion. The professionals who join Stanton Communications often come to us right out of college with little practical public relations experience, and sometimes without a degree in communication. Yet these individuals consistently prove to be exceptional, advancing very quickly in skill and responsibility. So what is it that makes them so successful, if it’s not education or experience? It’s more about who they are that makes them well suited to the practice of public relations.
During my 15-plus years at Stanton Communications, there are four key personality traits that I see reflected consistently in my talented colleagues:
Curiosity – If you’re eager to know about a whole lot of things, then agency life is for you. Agency professionals tend to work on multiple accounts and in different industries. They need to be able to quickly get up to speed and understand the client, their industry, and even their corporate culture. It’s not just about being smart, it’s about wanting to learn, wanting to understand. We naturally ask questions…about everything. It’s why we read….everything. Why we are addicted to our smart phones, and twitter feeds. We get excited about new things and pride ourselves on exploring the latest communication platforms. This same curiosity drives strong PR professionals to seek out every detail for a pitch, like trying a million different ways find the unpublished contact info for a reporter. We simply need to know!
Ability to Anticipate – There is no doubt that public relations is fast-paced and demanding. Unless you enjoy working late nights and weekends all the time you need to stay one step ahead of your clients and colleagues. Those that anticipate the next step also plan ahead and usually manage to stay ahead. They aren’t the ones waiting until the end of the day to get feedback or direction from a very busy colleague or client, because they’ve anticipated the time needed for response. Those who can look ahead at the possible scenarios and work backward mitigate risk, ensure projects meet deadlines and generate exceptional results.
Empathy – Agency professionals need to be able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. It is really easy to get upset about a deadline that seems impossible or grouse about an assignment for “not being strategic,” but it’s important to understand there is a bigger picture. Corporate Communicators support their own clients as well – they may be colleagues, but they are clients with demands and deadlines. The agency team may be working on one initiative for the account, but there are likely many other deliverables that the client contact is managing too. Clients have just as many competing priorities as their agency partner …often more. Successful professionals give everyone the benefit of the doubt – they operate with the assumption that a client has a good reason for not returning a call or responding to an email. The same attitude applies to colleagues. I am always impressed by professionals who eagerly jump in and help even if it means missing that happy hour, workout or other evening plans. They are the last to be working alone after hours on a Friday because they make sure never to leave someone else in that position, client or colleague.
Humility – One of the most exciting things about our industry is that it is always changing. No matter how much you know, there is always more to learn. Even when brought in as ‘the expert,’ sharing knowledge with humility demonstrates an openness to client insight that can enhance a recommended approach. Successful professionals realize it is about results, not ego. Communication occurs in a very unstable environment with outside factors that can easily impact the effectiveness of even the most well thought out, carefully conceived plan. Maintaining humility softens the blow when things don’t go ‘according to plan.’
Time and again, these four characteristics have contributed to the career advancement of public relations professionals that I admire both at Stanton Communications and in other organizations. While an organization may be able to nurture these characteristics, I have found it difficult if not impossible for those who don’t naturally possess these qualities to develop them. They have a hard time “getting it.” Conducting interviews in a manner that will help you gauge these key attributes is likely to be a better indicator of a candidate’s potential than a strong resume or a stellar portfolio. While good PR practitioners can be raised in a classroom, the best may very well be born for it.