I didn't get where I am today... by waiting for the job I wanted to be advertised

Colin Byrne, CEO of Weber Shandwick, tells Jonathan Tilley how he got to the top.

Colin Byrne: Weber Shandwick CEO
Colin Byrne: Weber Shandwick CEO

Just over 30 years ago, I was trying to make a career as a rock writer, enjoying the gigs and occasionally seeing my name in print, but not earning a bean.

I saw a job advertised for a PR assistant. I lacked some of the experience required, but knocked on the PR director's door anyway. He was open-minded on talent, liked my passion for comms, gave me a chance and remains a friend decades later.

Five years later, I did the same with Peter Mandelson when he was director of comms for the Labour Party.

I wrote to him with my ideas. I did not wait for a recruitment ad in The Guardian. Mandelson gave me the same chance and we worked closely together for many years. He was my most important mentor.

These experiences taught me some valuable lessons. Be open-minded in recruitment; seek talent, not just square pegs for equally square holes. Talent that is transformational.

Second, sell yourself. Likewise, do not undersell yourself.

In our business avoid arrogance, but don't be too meek. Knock on that door.

Third, get a mentor and keep on learning. My experience in politics also taught me that PR professionals should not just be about good comms.

Be a change agent, seek insights and use them to shape policy and strategy.

PR is all about talent. Creative intelligence focused on inspiring action; curiosity about the world around you; an understanding of technology and data, not just how you write a press release.

If you want to get on, aim to build broader skills, experience and intelligence, and use them to add value to your offering, which in turn will enable you to sell yourself better.

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