What makes an ideal PR consultant?

In a digital age, PR professionals must not forget about the value of face-to-face interaction.

Andrew Laxton is executive vice-president and managing director, Asia, with Racepoint Global
Andrew Laxton is executive vice-president and managing director, Asia, with Racepoint Global

The way in which the modern world communicates has evolved beyond recognition. Gary Turk’s wonderful video ‘Look Up’ (see below) urges people to unplug from smartphones and social media. While I do not share this sentiment entirely, there is a ring of truth about the way we communicate as public relations professionals. I am concerned that young PR professionals today are so entrenched in the smartphone culture they’re quickly forgetting how to conduct face-to-face human interaction - a must in our industry.

If used correctly, there is no doubting the power and influence digital and social media integration has had on shaping brands and engaging with audiences. While this converged approach plays a critical role in the future development of our business, I would argue that the fundamental skill sets we require as good practitioners remain the same but nowadays are sorely missing. Have we lost that old art form of being able to communicate effectively in person? My answer is ‘yes’.

Like most careers in consulting, the right blend of soft and hard skills is the perfect mix and PR is no different. We are all guilty of spending too much time glued to our desks but there is no better way of building public relationships and providing effective counsel with our clients than in a face-to-face environment.

Developing the perfect client-agency relationship that is based on trust, respect and partnership can only be achieved if the chemistry and personality of both parties is sympatico. It still amazes me how little face time people in the PR industry spend with clients, journalists and analysts, for example. So while we are breeding a generation of young PR professionals with fantastic technical skills, much more needs to be done to nurture those equally important soft skills.

There are now so many valuable learning and development programmes available that can help with creating the ideal new generation PR professional. So what would the DNA of the perfect PR consultant look like in our new world of convergence? This is what I look for:

Mind, language and behavior

Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) describes the dynamics between mind (neuro) and language (linguistic) and how their relationship affects our behaviour. Understanding the fundamental basics of reading human behaviour, such as NLP, allows communications professionals to read situations, body language and tone and adapt accordingly. A crucial skill for anyone in the industry is having a personality that is malleable and versatile to handle both the highs and the lows that come with dealing with people.

Initiative to network

Let’s be honest, networking isn’t that enjoyable – it can be uncomfortable, stagnant and daunting, especially if you’re of a timid disposition. Giving peers the tools needed for successful networking is very important, from learning how to break the ice to following up with the contact the next day, it’s these interpersonal skills that will shape careers, build personal brands and grow networks.

Assertiveness

I like the intern that asks questions and the colleague that identifies problems. We should be encouraging staff of all levels to speak up and be heard, so that they have the confidence and experience first-hand. Whether it’s brainstorming or team building, client meetings or at lunch, PR professionals should feel comfortable sharing ideas and knowledge, without fear or judgement.

Ironically, Turk’s video has been viewed more than 38 million times since it was posted on YouTube on April 25. So yes, we should be sharing it on social but taking a little time to follow his advice would not be such a bad idea either.

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