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How to develop your PR career

How to develop your PR career

Smart career development advice for the PR professional from Alice Weightman, a director at Hanson Search (

There was a time when moving up the career ladder in the PR industry was a relatively straightforward business. You did your job conscientiously, kept your clients happy, tried not to fall out with your boss and, given time and patience, you could expect to be promoted.

But now the PR workplace is a much more complicated and challenging place and the process of developing your career an altogether more difficult one.

If you have your sights set on the boardroom or the partnership table these days you will need more than simple technical ability, because both agencies and in-house departments now look for a much wider range of softer skills than in the past.

One of these key skills is an understanding of how to use the techniques of personal networking

Most of us will quickly grasp how useful networking skills can be when it comes to business development or even looking for your own next career move. However their value goes much further than this.

In today’s business environment, the most effective professionals are often successful because they are good at building relationships downwards, upwards and sideways across organisations and wider communities.

It’s consequently unfortunate that, in the UK, personal networking is something that we are almost uniformly bad at, particularly in contrast to our American cousins, who seem to have been taught it from birth.

Yet the ability to put together a group of individuals – either physical or virtual - who can help you to perform more effectively, is becoming increasingly important and relatively simple to learn given the right motivation.

The key is to realise that effective networking is based on two simple pillars – the fact that most people actually like being asked for their opinions and assistance and an appreciation that the process works best when it is based on mutual benefit or good, old-fashioned ‘give and take’.

Successful networkers are consequently not afraid to ask for help and they also take every opportunity to offer assistance to those who might be able to return the favour in the future.

If you want to see an example of this mutual back-scratching in action, get yourself a copy of ‘The Godfather’ (just fast-forward through the bits about beheading racehorses, shooting people in restaurants, etc).

The other ‘hot’ skill for those aiming for the top in the profession is that of leadership. Cynics may ask whether this is just the ability to manage dressed up under a more fashionable name.

However while there are obviously a number of common elements to being a manager and being a leader, the key extra element is perhaps best highlighted in the dictionary definition, which, amongst other things, describes a leader as ‘someone who guides or inspires others.’

At its best, leadership can achieve much more than simple management. In a survey of fifty global companies, the research firm ISR found a direct link between effective leadership and commercial performance.

In organisations where their superiors received an ‘average’ leadership rating from employees, sales improved over the course of a year by just over 6%. But in organisations where they were rated highly, sales rose by more than 10%.

So how does a PR professional become a good workplace leader? Here’s a short checklist that may help to point you in the right direction:

1) Communicate – The ability to get your message across in a clear, effective and emotive way counts for a lot and can compensate for lot of other imperfections.

2) Clarity – People like to know what is expected of them and what objectives the organisation is aiming for.

3) Decisiveness – The best leaders don’t vacillate. Be clear about what you think and where you are going.

4) Adaptability – At the same time you need to be flexible enough to react to new challenges and opportunities.

5) Approachability - Stay approachable and be seen to be part of the team. An open door policy will encourage your team to communicate openly and honestly with you at all times, which will make management and direction a lot easier.

6) Sensitivity - Make sure that you know if your people are unhappy. Try to be sensitive to their needs and expectations. Anticipate their moves and act accordingly.

7) Vision - A certain amount of vision and the ability to see the bigger picture, is vital. Just tread carefully unless you want to sound like Ricky Gervais in ‘the Office’.

8) Example – Expect from others what you expect from yourself. Leaders belong at the front, not at the back

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