Most people outside our profession tend to hold the perception that PR professionals are all shows and no content. We are portrayed in the media and in popular culture as a group of empty-headed event planners who will stop at nothing to get publicity for our organizations or clients. This negative perception has been cultivated by the actions of those who do not have what it takes to be PR personalities, but somehow have found themselves in our noble profession. This piece is meant to be a clarion call to them and all other well-meaning PR professionals to wake up so that we can take our place in the comity of professions.
In the highly wired, ever-changing and complex world of today, where true public engagement is the name of the game, those who occupy PR positions, or who aspire to such positions must be PR personalities to succeed. There should be no room for pretenders who have degraded our profession, depicting it as only a set of tactics.
It is extremely important we build credibility with the publics and stakeholders we want to reach, both internally and externally, by developing and becoming the kind of personalities that reflect the ideals and standards of our profession.
So, who is a PR personality?
It is that personality who has the ability to identify, build and maintain long-term, supportive, relationships and one who can work comfortably with every sane person irrespective of their individual or cultural differences. This ability comes from the right knowledge, the right set of skills and the right attitudes acquired and developed over time. The competencies, the sets of behaviours needed to perform effectively as a PR professional, are based on this trinity of knowledge, skills and attitudes.
What knowledge is right?
Every field of knowledge is relevant to Public Relations. In fact a PR personality should be in the mold of the Renaissance man or woman. According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, a Renaissance man is “a polymath; a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas; such a person is known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems.”
Such is the intellectual depth that empowers PR personalities to navigate the rocky and shifty terrain of relationship management in different situations and across cultures effectively and with ease.
The International Public Relations Association (IPRA) knew this when it prescribed the subject areas a basic PR professional training program should cover. It spans
Liberal Arts and Humanities, Communication and The Theory and Practice of Public Relations.
The subjects in Liberal Arts and Humanities include: Economics, Political Science, government organization, management science, personnel management and social services. Others are history and Archeology, natural sciences, language, statistics, organizational structure and business administration.
The prescription of communication based subjects covers Advertising, Theory and Process of Communication, Writing for the Mass Media, Editing and Graphics of Communication. Others in this area are: Media Analysis, Research, Media Law and Ethics.
Lastly, it recommends that the theory and practice of Public Relations should cover Principles of Public Relations and their applications in different types of organizations – government, commercial and non-commercial organizations.
This is a long list of subject areas to cover. It knocks the intellectually lazy out of the realm. It’s even longer when you add the new recommendations by the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, the global voice of Public Relations, as contained in the Global Body of Knowledge (GBOK) Project. Then add specialized knowledge of sectors of the economy, which is crucial to effective PR practice in sectors such as aviation, healthcare, manufacturing, technology, banking and finance to name a few.
What about skills?
Great PR personalities are skilled in speaking, writing (special reports, position papers, public statements, news releases, feature articles etc), editing, planning and implementation of PR campaigns, general management, management of meetings (Virtual Meetings inclusive) and special events. Other skills are interpersonal relationship management, online communication, desktop publishing and graphics of communication, leadership, negotiation, counseling, consulting, research and evaluation of public opinions, communication campaigns and competitive intelligence. Today, information technology skills such as search engine optimization, online community management, web development and management including mastery of web content development systems are crucial skills they must possess.
Attitudes of a PR personality
Attitude is everything. Negative attitudes just do not fly in the relationship management universe, or anywhere else for that matter. No one feels good around a toxic personality. Attitudes that make a PR personality are many, but these are the core ones crucial to his or her work:
- Calmness even under pressure. This communicates maturity and inner strength.
- Access. Being approachable is a relationship building tonic. Aloofness is a turn-off and a relationship killer.
- Networking. PR people should be outgoing to make the needed contacts and connections to solve problems for their clients or employers and spot new trends.
- Curiosity. It’s needed to sniff and spot new social and other trends in the environment, so you can always put your best foot forward at all times. It helps PR people remain learners throughout life, which is what the profession requires.
- Adaptability. This is required in Change Management. A PR person should be able to change course quickly and scale activities in response to changing circumstances.
- Confidence. This is built on self-knowledge, mastery of the profession and mastery of the business environment. Confidence helps to draw people to PR personalities the way iron filings are drawn to a magnet. And that is good business for them, especially in intelligence gathering and other social research activities.
- Humor. It helps you touch the heart of others. Everyone loves to be around those who can make them laugh.
- Positivity. No one likes the company of gloomy person. Being positive gives those around you hope, motivation and the will to move on.
- Patience. It helps you to make allowances for others whose ways may not agree with your own.
- Win-Win or No deal. A winner-takes-all attitude is a bad deal for relationships.
- Openness. Disclosure of thoughts and concerns including satisfaction and dissatisfaction with others shows your authenticity and builds trust.
- Responsiveness. A timely show of concern for the plights of others is a good sport for relationships.
- Unconditional constructiveness. Acting in ways that promote a relationship, even when the other party is not reciprocating shows commitment to the relationship and makes others do the same by osmosis.
- Listening. Hearing others out gives them a sense of belonging and makes them stick to you.
- Good citizenship. Respect for the laws of the land, respect for the environment and concern for the welfare of society are essentials in relationship management.
- Inclusiveness. Respecting and accommodating all points of views, cultures and ethnic groups in all dealings gives a PR person the universal appeal he or she needs to get the work done.
- Integrity. Walking the talk helps to build trust with stakeholders and the organization or clients you work for.
Remember: a PhD in Public Relations and Communication Management and, or membership of the most prestigious professional bodies in Public Relations is not enough to make you a PR personality. You must master the body of knowledge; possess the relevant skills and attitudes to apply the knowledge for the desired results. It is only then that you complete the triangle for the manifestation of that ideal personality for our beloved profession.
Developing The PR Personality
You may begin to feel that developing a PR personality is not attainable. You may even think it takes very special people; perhaps, those who are divinely anointed, to have all the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to be one. Please come off those crooked thoughts. It takes only three steps:
Begin with self assessment to spot your weaknesses and strengths so that you may know where to start and where to put in your most effort.
- Assess your level of knowledge.
Are you qualified? What other areas of knowledge do you need to pursue? What about specialized industry knowledge; do you have them, at least, in the industry where you work or aspire to work?
- Assess your skills. Where do you stand in relation to the skills listed above? Which do you need to acquire?
- Assess your attitudes. Do you have the core PR attitudes outlined in this article?
- Identify your relational style. Most attitudes are rooted in your style.
Relational styles were developed from attachment theory postulated by John Bowlby. They are also known as attachment or love styles and defined as your consistent pattern or characteristic way of interacting or relating with others.
There are four styles, namely: secure, preoccupied, dismissive and fearful relational styles.
Those who use the secure attachment style have positive views of themselves and others. They are friendly, conversational, compassionate and warm. They are comfortable with intimacy and independence in relationships, meaning they can lean on others and can permit others to also lean on them.
People with pre-occupied attachment styles hold negative views of themselves and positive view of others. This makes them end up depending overly on others in relationships. They are usually not comfortable in their own skins and therefore are prone to becoming anxious when there is no one to hang on.
Anyone using the dismissive relational style will always hold positive opinions of themselves and negative ones of others. They avoid close relationships and are compulsively self-reliant and self-sufficient. If they encounter rejection from others, they usually distance themselves from the source of rejection.
Those who use the fearful relational style believe they are not good and others are not good as well. They fear closeness and rejection in relationships at the same time, and often hold mixed feelings about close relationships. They find it difficult to trust others.
Your relational style determines your social efficiency, how you cope in stressful situations, and your level of emotional intelligence, your communication behavior and your conflict resolution approaches. Can you spot your relational style now?
Bring out the grey areas in your knowledge, skills and attitudes (KSA) and work on them
- Study and master the subject areas you don’t understand. If you are just coming into the field, write the qualifying examinations and get certified. Update your knowledge-base constantly through books, journals and continuous professional education programs. And an MBA programme may give you the required business literacy you need.
- Acquire the skills you need to do your work. This depends on the aspects of PR you specialize or work in. The best starting point after qualifying is internship. Information and communication technology skills are now a must for PR people. Learn and master them. The Internet is a good place to go for the skills very useful to PR. Hubspot offers free online training on inbound marketing, email marketing and content marketing. Google has digital courses in Analytics, AdWords and Digital Marketing. And Market Motive offers self-paced online courses in web analytics, social media marketing, search engine optimization, email marketing and content marketing. Work-shadowing and volunteering in PR-related activities in your church, community or non-profit organizations are other ways to acquire new skills.
- The best relational style for effective PR work is the secure style. You can change to it. All that is required is to be aware of how you interact in relationships and with self regulation, affirmations and auto-suggestions you can improve on or eliminate those tendencies that held you from using the secure style.
Project Your PR Personality
Begin with good personal grooming. Registering and doing courses in a finishing school may be a good option. Thereafter, circulate. Someone once said that if you cannot circulate you will not percolate.
You percolate when you are able to show the world the good stuff you are made of and attract positive attention. Do it through your work, through your attitudes in social settings, through your approach to dealing with difficult situations, especially the social one, through the way you treat others, including your clients, employers and employees and through the way you dress. Interestingly, this is the best way to get feedbacks from which to anchor the next phase of your development.
In conclusion, developing the PR personality is always work in progress. It is a hard work that requires an uncommon amount of discipline, commitment and determination to remain on the path. But the effort is worth its weight in gold. You win respect and recognition for yourself and for your profession. Above all, it guarantees you a seat in that elusive strategic decision-making roundtable of any organization you work or consult for.