What it takes to be successful in PR – learnings from a graduate
Before I started working in corporate communications, I was aware of the stereotypes – ‘Absolutely Fabulous’, endless bottles of Bollinger, Samantha Jones from Sex and the City and long lunches.
One year on, and in celebration of my anniversary in the industry, I have decided to dedicate my blog to all that I have learnt, the challenges I have faced, and how those PR stereotypes could not be further from the truth.
I knew that building relationships with journalists was integral to PR, but until I started work at Sermelo, I did not realise how many different media platforms now need to be tapped into in order to create a successful PR campaign.
PR is a world of nationals, verticals, trades, vlogs, blogs, tweets, posts, PM’s and DM’s, plus many more. A PR professional needs to understand the influence these all have, and which ones work best for each client, resonate the most with their audiences and can deliver their message in the most appropriate way.
During my first week at Sermelo, I was asked to pitch, under embargo, a product that was about to launch. Although a daunting request, I’ve always relished a challenge.
I was given a press release and a media list to sell the story in. After the initial nerve-wracking pitch, I started to get into my stride. I enjoyed telling the clients’ story and communicating succinctly what they were offering. I had five pieces published by the end of the week.
Although I like to think my natural flair for pitching had something to do with this achievement, the initial brief I received from my line manager was the key to my success. Without understanding the story the client wanted to tell, my pitching would have been weak, and rightly so, it would have irritated those journalists I spoke with.
Engaging with the media can be tough – having a high EQ helps with this. To be successful you need to be able to see the bigger picture. If it’s the day of the Budget, don’t pitch a finance story. If you’re selling in a story for Monday morning, don’t make your phone calls on a Friday afternoon. Don’t overlook freelance journalists – they are far more likely to respond to your email and often point you in the direction of the right person if they can’t help.
If I’ve learnt one thing from this year, it’s to do your research, gather interesting insight and data, find out what journalists are interested in and constantly be aware of the news cycle.
Not only does this kind of understanding counteract the unfortunate shroud of negativity that the PR industry is sometimes faced with, but it also benefits those clients you represent.
The ability to understand a wide variety of businesses in different market sectors is an essential aspect of corporate communications. What I’ve learnt is that clients want creative and integrated solutions, which are aligned with their business objectives. Although on the surface this might seem a simple proposition, offering a truly integrated service takes a lot of careful consideration.
My time at Sermelo so far has seen me work with a vast range of clients – from commercial property insurance to a village in the Swiss Alps. Quickly understanding the client’s business and the environment in which they operate requires an ability to filtrate through lots of information in order to have a solid handle of what your client wants to communicate, and for you to communicate it to a given audience.
Indeed, we live in a world where for every journalist there are four PRs – therefore, knowing your clients’ business inside and out is key to creating relevant stories that hit their objectives and that correspond with what is of interest to the news cycle.
PR professionals have to be interested, curious and entrepreneurial – they should continually strive to educate themselves about new trends in order to enrich themselves, and in turn their offer to clients.
PR is grounded in the ability to communicate and be social - we are constantly talking to people; be it clients, journalists, other PRs or just each other.
At Sermelo, we are an incredibly social team. There is a real sense of team spirit. We all muck in when it comes to tight deadlines or large projects – whether management or intern, everyone is involved at some stage of the campaign, pitch and deliverable process.
We have a company meeting every Monday morning, and are always speaking to our colleagues regardless of where we’re physically based. For someone still relatively new to the industry it has been great to learn from my peers, who have a vast amount of experience between them.
The year ahead
I have learnt an incredible amount over the last year at Sermelo, and it doesn’t look like that will stop anytime soon. PR is a wonderful industry, and has so much to offer those graduates entering into it. I’m very much looking forward to what the next 12 months have in store - and regardless of the stereotypes, I will definitely raise a glass of champagne to that.