What is the secret to getting a successful start in PR? A good academic record? A great interview technique? Maybe lots of hands-on experience?
Undoubtedly all of these are going to play an important role in getting you closer to that dream job, as is having the right key skills. But what is it that enables a graduate, just emerging from the safe haven of academia into the fast-flow of real business, to make a successful launch into the profession?
During the 10 years I ran my PR consultancy, Amanda Barry Communications (ABC), I was fortunate to interview and subsequently employ many talented people. Some were graduates, some were not, but many were looking for their first break into PR and keen to make a great start - just like you. Thinking back to all the personalities and characters I met, I wondered if I could identify a secret ingredient possessed by many of those who have since gone on to enjoy successful careers in PR. What was special about these people? Was there an elusive X factor that got them onto the right path?
I find that the answer is that these people didn't have just one X factor, but three. These three attributes may not always listed in the textbooks, but nonetheless, I believe play a crucial role in turning a run-of-the-mill PR person, into an extraordinary one. And the good news is you don't have to pass any exams to possess them:
X-factor 1: Attitude
The right attitude really does make someone stand apart from the crowd. The right attitude can help deal with problems and anything else that gets thrown at you during the day-to-day hubbub of a PR professional's life. You may hear people say "he/she's got the right attitude" without exactly being able to pinpoint what that is. But when you're starting off in a new job, adopting a can-do, no nonsense approach will help when everything around you feels new and strange. Another thing about attitude is that although we may not be able to control what's going on around us - the photocopier's broken, the journalist isn't returning our calls etc, we're all able to choose our attitude, whatever the situation. The saying "It's not what happens to us that upsets us, it's how we respond" is never more appropriate than when a deadline is upon us, the client is on the phone and the boss is in a bad mood. This isn't to say that you have to be jolly all day long (you'll drive everyone up the wall if you are), just know that whatever happens around you, you have the power to choose how to respond.
X-factor 2: Enthusiasm
If you've got it for PR and what you do, then you're going to find you're more successful than someone who slogs through the workload just to get it done. Enthusiasm for getting it right. Enthusiasm for doing a good job. Enthusiasm that bubbles out of you whatever the weather. The good thing about enthusiasm is that it's infectious. Employers - and clients - are drawn towards it and will often choose to work with people they feel are genuinely enthusiastic about what
X-factor 3: Persistence
Sticking with it in the face of sometimes very difficult odds is a vital quality in PR. When a story has stalled and your plans look like going up in smoke, having a rethink before giving it another try often pays off. PR is very much a roller-coaster ride. One minute it's all going brilliantly and your story is scheduled to run on the front page. The next, a bigger story has happened and yours ends up in the bin. Infuriating and frustrating as it may be, that's the way PR (and in particular media relations) works. In a business where the main goal is to seek to change attitudes or behaviour, it's naturally going to take time to do just that. Adopting a persistent nature will help you take the ups and downs in your stride from the very start.
As simple as they may sound, the above qualities are not as common as you may think. But as those ABC high-flyers proved - if you take them to heart when you get that first job, you'll be on track for a rewarding and successful career.
Amanda Barry is an independent PR and communication skill specialist. She runs seminars and workshops on PR for entrepreneurs and practitioners, is a speaker on communication issues and author of PR Power - Inside Secrets from the World of Spin (Virgin Books).