TUSCALOOSA, AL: While every accomplished PR executive has taken a unique career path, graduate students at the University of Alabama have conducted a survey that identifies 10 patterns of success across the industry.
The study, which was sponsored in part by Heyman Associates, an executive search firm specializing in PR and communications, is believed to be the first to address PR.
"There have been hundreds, maybe even thousands, of articles about general leadership," said Bruce Berger, chairman of the university's department of advertising and PR. "I'm not aware of anything that looked at [PR success] through the eyes of the top people in the field."
Some of the ingredients, such as likability, proactivity, and passion, hold true across most industries, Berger noted.
Others are more PR-specific.
In their advice to young professionals, 43.3% of executives stressed technical (writing) skills and 41.2% suggested developing positive personal traits.
They listed both special skills and a diversity of experience as career tipping points.
Berger also noted that PR execs tended to view themselves as less successful if their bosses didn't understand PR's value.
Forty-five percent of respondents said PR is misunderstood, and cited the association of PR with "spinmeisters" and the lack of metrics as possible causes.
Berger's students conducted 30-minute interviews with 97 PR pros at the height of their careers. All of the participants were the highest-ranking PR executives at their organizations, whether corporate, agency, or academic.
The study has applications in academia and for recruiters.
"What do we do [as educators] ... to help stimulate proactivity?" Berger asked. "How do we explain the value of risk-taking to young professionals?"
During the downturn, corporations "spent more time paying attention to these ingredients than before," said Bill Heyman, CEO of Heyman Associates.