You know one when you meet one – an effective public relations professional.
At first, you may not be able to distinguish just what it is that sets an effective PR person apart from the rest, but in time you may be able to put a finger on it.
In my experience in the public relations business, I’ve learned what to look for and it often comes down to these five attributes:
Effective PR pros know when to speak, but most importantly when and how to actively listen.
They have some of their questions well formulated in advance. They know what they don’t know. They know what they need to learn. But they usually start simply by letting others speak.
As part of “listening” they watch for group dynamics and nonverbal communications. They probe. They ask questions in a thorough and systematic way so that no stone is uncovered. They do all of this before offering their own insights or recommendations.
The listening process never stops. They pay attention to voluntary and involuntary feedback or indicators of how the communications program is working, always willing to make adjustments when and as needed.
Once they’ve conducted formal and informal research, once they’ve delved deeply into the situation, effective PR pros use strong analytical abilities to put the matter into proper context.
This helps decision-makers make sometimes difficult but informed decisions. Then the effective PR pro knows how to communicate within the proper context to all important stakeholders. An effective public relations professional knows that without context, the most solid facts or defensible positions can be disregarded or overlooked.
An effective PR pro knows that people need to understand even the most complex concepts in simple, relatable terms.
Usually this centers on the impact developments, products, solutions or events will have on stakeholders themselves. Of course, it’s often much more than that, but the key for the effective public relations professional is an ability to gather every facet of a situation and organize it into a simple, coherent message that speaks to important stakeholders on an informational and emotional level on their terms.
While the field of public relations touches a broad range of disciplines, the two major media channels that PR pros must understand are traditional and digital.
An effective PR pro understands the strengths and weaknesses of both. The pro knows how the two can oftentimes be interdependent with one feeding off of the other today, and the situation in reverse tomorrow. They know what it takes to trigger and build interest, and with that in mind, they know how a situation spiraling out of control can be best managed and brought under control.
An effective public relations professional understands when is the best time to use traditional media, and when digital media packs more power.
One of the most obvious signs of an amateur is someone who sees public relations as a solution to all business and societal problems. Typically, the amateur’s kneejerk solution to seemingly any challenge is to proactively communicate broadly and aggressively in on the assumption that communication in and of itself will be easily understood and accepted in good faith by everyone.
An effective PR pro knows that timing really is everything.
There are times when communication is totally appropriate, but there are times for any number of reasons, it’s best to wait, or not to communicate at all. These situations could involve legal risk or business implications. They could also range from matters where communication simply is not the solution to the problem – that the problem runs much deeper – to when the people involved simply aren’t ready to hear whatever messaging you have to share.
An effective PR pro knows that timing is just as important as content, message and media channel.
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Tim O’Brien is owner of Pittsburgh-based O’Brien Communications, a corporate communications consultancy. He has over 30 years’ experience in communications and started his career as a journalist.
Photo via Pixabay