The best brand PR professionals need four key traits

Exceptional PR professionals must possess a unique blend of skills to meet consumer expectations.

Joan O'Conner: "Working at Coca-Cola, optimism is part of our DNA and a core brand value."
Joan O'Conner: "Working at Coca-Cola, optimism is part of our DNA and a core brand value."

While writing a new job description for a brand PR manager, I started thinking about the key traits I was looking for to complement the typical skills and experience required. I thought about the unique perspective a brand PR expert needs to use against a backdrop of multiple marketing connection points, idea generation, budget and reach. I also considered what PR brings to marketing, its ability to add real-world consumer perspective to what makes a good story, and how it can find the most credible way to engage with multiple audiences. 

I believe the most valuable traits that can breed exceptional PR specialists are: tenacity, optimism, intuition and curiosity.

Tenacity is about determination and perseverance; a strength of will to get things done. But US author Seth Godin points out that tenacity is not the same as persistence: "Persistence is doing something again and again until it works. Tenacity is using new data to make new decisions to find new pathways to achieve a goal when the old way didn’t work. Telemarketers are persistent, Nike is tenacious." I like this. Good PR practitioners need to find solutions that often reinvent old models and create innovative pathways to successful comms strategies.

Intuition is about having an instinct for when and how it is best to communicate and what will resonate with consumers. Dave Trott, chairman of The Gate, tells the story of Mavis Batey, a 19-year-old university student who was recruited in 1940 to work at Bletchley Park. Bletchley deciphered virtually all of the enemy’s coded Enigma messages during World War Two, and Mavis was one of the people responsible. Her brilliance was her intuition. She wasn’t given rules or a formula to follow. In PR, much of what we do is not in a textbook. But the experience and knowledge gained through successes and mistakes can help us find innovative ways of doing things. Going out and talking to people, understanding what makes them tick, is learned through experience and the ability to think for yourself.

Working at Coca-Cola, optimism is part of our DNA and a core brand value. People respond to optimism in a real and personal way. A positive attitude allows us to improve things and hope for a better tomorrow; it inspires people and brings people on board. This is valuable as PR is often in the firing line from a grumpy journalist, a difficult stakeholder or a sceptical client.

Finally, the curiosity to seek knowledge from books, media, friends, culture and society is key for PRs and fuels creativity.

A desire to investigate how things work, why people act the way they do, what impacts behaviour and where people get their ideas from offers significant insights for a PR professional.

All these traits are effective in terms of delivery and approach. PRs need to try new ideas and ways of working as nothing stays the same. The media landscape and what consumers want from brands is constantly changing, so keeping an eye on these traits and how you use them could result in a marked improvement in output as well as personal satisfaction. 

Joan O’Connor is head of brand PR, Coca-Cola North West Europe and Nordics

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