10,000 hours to nowhere

Most people are familiar with Malcolm Gladwell's "10,000 hour rule" from his well-known book Outliers: The Story of Success. It claims that the key to success is practicing a specific task for more than 10,000 hours.

Most people are familiar with Malcolm Gladwell's “10,000 hour rule” from his well-known book Outliers: The Story of Success. It claims that the key to success is practicing a specific task for more than 10,000 hours.

This is an interesting concept. How does “practicing a specific task” stack up in the PR industry where the rules are constantly changing?

I began my career in public relations almost a decade ago, and at that time Facebook was a platform in its infancy. Two weeks ago, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, announced that the platform had reached 1 billion monthly active users.

Now a large number of companies have Facebook profiles and use this platform to build communities. The same goes for Twitter, which passed 500 million users in June. Rather than clogging journalists' inboxes with emails, PR professionals tweet at them to get their attention.

What does this mean? In a nutshell, the way the PR industry operates is changing rapidly. Long gone are the days when a news release would be delivered by hand or faxed to an editor.

There are a ton of other facts marking the transformation of our industry. For example:

  • Popular news sites are increasingly monetizing content by enforcing a pay-wall, including The Times, The Sunday Times, and The New York Times and the Dallas Morning News. In Canada, four Postmedia papers launched pay walls two months ago: the Vancouver Sun, The Ottawa Citizen, The Province, and National Post, affecting readership figures and the ROI that PR professionals can expect from online coverage.
  • There are now more than 181 million blogs around the world, providing new platforms for PR pros to capitalize on.
  • Pinterest and Google+ launched in 2011. As of September 2011, Google+ has 400 million registered users, again creating new opportunities for PR staffers.
  • In 2011, 239 new magazines launched and 152 closed in the US and Canada. Despite glum predictions that magazines are “dead,” the real stats tell a different story – which again is good news for PR pros.

In PR, it's not about practicing a specific task for a certain amount of time. As an extreme example, anyone still repeatedly sending their news releases by fax is going to be having a tough time getting results. Instead, it's about constantly evolving your knowledge and expertise to keep up with – or ideally ahead of – consumer adoption.

Having done some math (admittedly PR style), I can guestimate that I've completed 18,720 hours as a PR professional (and that doesn't account for the overtime that's part and parcel of PR life). By Gladwell's standards, I've exceeded the magic number. Yet I'm still following trends and dreaming up ways or channels to get my clients in front of their target audiences.

I'm still learning; I'm still practicing new tasks. And to be good at my job, I'll continue to learn and practice different tasks for many, many years.

At a recent Social Media Week conference in Vancouver, I saw Judy Brooks, a serial entrepreneur in Vancouver, present. When asked how many hours of sleep she got a night, Brooks confessed three to four hours. To be successful in any business, putting in the hours is undoubtedly essential.

What's not necessarily true in the case of PR is that doing the same thing for 10,000 hours will make you an expert. If your focus is too narrow, the PR kaleidoscope will quickly surpass your skill set.

Evolving, learning, and experimenting is fundamental to any individual's success in the PR industry.

Charlotte Sherry is an account director at Peak Communicators, western Canada's largest independent PR firm. She is also the marketing and communications manager at Women in Leadership.

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