There’s a saying: “May you live in interesting times.” Whether intended as a blessing or a curse, there’s little doubt we are living in interesting times. It’s how we respond that makes all the difference, especially in media relations.
According to Pew Research Center, trust in the media continues to decline to its lowest levels. Trust in corporations, particularly those in the technology sector, is declining as well.
At the same time, newsrooms are being acquired, gutted—and in some cases threatened. Journalists’ resources are squeezed, yet they are often expected to produce more and embrace new forms of storytelling and information sharing. For those of us who have made a career out of bridging this gap, these are interesting times indeed.
As communicators, our job is to help our clients build trust and relevance with their stakeholders—difficult to quantify, yet urgently needed today. And, how we do that is always evolving.
Here are five very important, yet often overlooked soft skills a successful media relations professional needs to lead that evolution that serves today, while aimed for tomorrow:
You will hear “no” a lot, from reporters, clients, and others. Don’t let it deter you.
Every “no” is an opportunity to probe deeper, ask more questions and get to a deeper understanding of the challenges and constraints. A resilient communicator will take in all these lessons to formulate their next move—whether it be a fresh story pitch, a new target outlet, or a new campaign concept—and get that much closer to a “yes.”
A great sense of curiosity, storytelling and an appetite to take measured risks will serve you and your clients well. You always need to be thinking of creative new ways to reach your audience and learning new approaches in storytelling. Things change rapidly in our industry, and no matter how long you’ve been at this there is still something new to learn every day.
This has never been a 9-to-5 job, so you need to be able to always be thinking ahead, considering the “what ifs”, and equally able to think on your feet. You need to be adaptable.
Where once there were live, in-person press briefings or interviews with executives, there are now lots of virtual meetings. Staying calm and cool no matter what happens is important. Being flexible helps you best represent a client. It’s also a skill you must teach clients to help them handle interviews with journalists.
It’s no surprise that we are in a “people business.” Our success is directly dependent on our ability
to relate to and develop relationships with other human beings.
That’s certainly become more difficult in our post-COVID reality where in-person coffees, interviews, conferences, and even in-office work, is fewer and further between, making it much more difficult to develop real connections. By demonstrating a level of vulnerability and offering grace to colleagues, clients and reporters, we can help to bring a welcome level of empathy and humanity back to our work.
At the end of the day, clients will come and go. Reporters will move to new gigs. Campaigns and projects will conclude. It’s crucial that tomorrow’s PR professional has a little bit of idealism in them, a little spark of internal motivation to make a meaningful impact with their work.
The stories we shape can impact a bottom line, but they can also shift and shape hearts and minds. Communicators who are also idealists won’t stop at checking the box, they’ll think and act outside the box ensuring their work matters.
During these interesting times, one of my organization’s fundamental values has helped to keep me grounded and pressing on: “Own your destiny.” It’s the expectation that every employee is ultimately responsible for their own future. Those who take the initiative are supported and rewarded, rather than those who wait for someone else to chart their path. Skills like research, writing, and presentation are table stakes in our business, but those who demonstrate resilience, curiosity, flexibility, empathy and idealism will be the ones who chart our professions shared destiny.
Angela Leon is vice president of strategy and media relations, Airfoil, a partner in The Worldcom Public Relations Group.