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PRCA 50: Four ways to be the outstanding PR of the next decade – or two!


This is part of a series of blog posts celebrating our 50th anniversary, all of which address the question: What does the future of the PR and communications industry look like?

I have trained hundreds of PRs over the last five decades – from junior to director level, internal comms to PR and digital teams. 

There is no doubt the world of PR has changed enormously – parts of PR are even dying – but how do PR professionals ensure they will stay up-to-date, relevant and influencing leadership?

Here are my tips based on where I see the issues and opportunities for this profession – they apply to those working in-house and those in agencies, both in terms of their own agency and working with clients.

1.       Ruthlessly tie your work to business objectives

What are your goals for this year? How will you demonstrate impact for the business?

When training, I always go round the room at the start and get everyone to say a key goal that their organisation is working towards. Too often the reply is ‘awareness’ or worse, they are not sure of the bigger picture goals.  I love it when at the end of a course, typically a third or more say they are going to challenge senior management to give greater clarity on their organisation’s goals!

PRs should be owning key goals such as increased sales, regulatory approval, visitor numbers or number of people helped. These will vary according to public, private and voluntary sectors.

2.       Think and talk like a leader

PRs often find it difficult to get leadership teams interested in or rating their work. But when you hear something like, “I can’t get time to discuss the newsletter” this isn’t surprising.

What you need to do is get your mind into what is worrying the leadership time – profitability, funding, cuts, reorganisation and more.  If you present and discuss your work in these terms, you will get engagement from senior people.

3.       Network at senior levels

PRs have a dream to ‘be in the boardroom’.  The way to do this is constantly be interested in what leaders are trying to achieve and helping – and being seen to help them – achieve this.

My tip is occasionally to book in time with leaders – a 20 minute coffee is probably realistic or a quick drink after work – and ask them to explain something about the business.  Maybe a new product or service, a new strategy and its implications, market trends, a merger or acquisition.  Keep it business-focused and ask intelligent questions.

You could also ask someone who is rated and influential if they would mentor you – few refuse.

4.       Learn the niceties of great client service

Whether your clients are internal or external, learn what makes for great client service and deliver it – my tips are in this blog on the Nightmare of Becoming a PR Client!

You will notice there is nothing in here about media relations, website hits or employee events.  These are merely tools to an end game – keep focused on the real issues that will make a difference to your organisation and you will be the PR who stands out for the next decade, or five decades!

Victoria Tomlinson was founder chief executive of award-winning Northern Lights PR. Last year she launched Next-Up a business to help people leaving full-time work and wanting to use their skills in unretirement. She is a BBC expert woman, Amazon bestselling author on blogging and an Honorary Teaching Fellow at Lancaster University.