PR People: We Know Enough to be Dangerous

By Ryan Lilly

              Public Relations was not my first career choice, or so I thought. I thought that I wanted to be a lawyer, in fact I took the LSAT not once but twice, but the universe it seems had different plans. Now I find myself in a career where I represent my client’s best interest in the court of public opinion – sound familiar?  I often find that when I tell people what I do, they scoff and dismiss me as yet another liberal communications person, who was too lazy to develop the skill set of say an engineer or physicist or… a lawyer. It might not help that I live right next to Harvard and MIT, some of the most renowned academic institutions on the planet.

I think there is a major disconnect between what people think that PR practitioners do and what we actually do. People seem to either think that PR people are slackers or not academically inclined, or my favorite – “Your work sounds like that show Mad Men.” Well let me tell you that we work very hard, and the only thing that I have in common with Don Draper and the misogynists at Sterling Cooper is an affinity for good scotch and a catchy tag line.

Like any profession slackers make their way into PR, but they never last long and are usually weeded out early in their would-be-careers. Real PR pros – the great ones – are experts in dozens of disciplines, or at least they can convince other experts of their superior knowledge. Today I may be trying to convince a producer at NBC of why a consumer product that shines shoes is superior to all other shoe cleaning options, and tomorrow I may be talking best practices for ensuring healthcare IT security compliance with an editor at the Wall Street Journal.

In PR you learn quickly that editors, producers and journalists have no problem telling you that you clearly have no idea what you are talking about, so you have to get a clue and get it quickly. Learn enough to be dangerous in a number of arenas and present that knowledge intelligently and confidently in a way that convinces the real expert that you just might know something more than he does – that is what it takes to be successful in PR.

The business savvy that PR practitioners must possess, even at a young age, is something else that I think that many outside of the profession do not recognize. The opportunity to work with C-suite executives on major accounts provides a level of access that most twenty something’s can’t even dream of. You have to believe that if you are writing the CEO’s byline for Forbes you are getting a high level of attention. You also can be sure that you have instilled a high level of trust in your skill set.

Also, as PR agency people become more seasoned, we get to witness acquisitions, mergers, hirings, firings, product launches… you get the idea – another level of access that not many people are privy to. Throughout the course of all these business moves we also get to see what works and what doesn’t. Not that PR people are or should be business advisors, but I have met some senior people who are certainly capable.   

PR requires a constant personal evolution, whether it is to keep up with new or social media or simply to learn about a new client’s industry. Good PR people aren’t just master communicators they are master formulators, planners, organizers, managers, writers, technologists, sociologists, psychologists and whatever else they might need on that day to get the job done.