6 habits that help PR pros think strategically

PR pros are continually asked to look at the bigger picture—and plan for every possible outcome. Here are some tricks for widening your focus and avoiding careless mistakes.

This article originally appeared on PR Daily in April of 2018.

As a whole, PR pros tend to be much more tactical than strategic.

To become a PR strategic thinker, you have to look at how what you’re going to do fits into the bigger picture.

There are six habits you can cultivate to do just that. Paul J.H. Shoemaker breaks down these habits in his book “Six Habits of True Strategic Thinkers.

He lists:

  • Anticipate
  • Think critically
  • Interpret
  • Decide
  • Align
  • Learn

Here’s how those traits manifest themselves in a PR pro:

1. Anticipate

Recently, P&G threatened to take its PR and advertising work in-house, as major companies did from 2008 to 2010. It was more cost-effective in a down economy.

History shows that agency work dries up for a few years when the large companies do this, so strategic PR pros (and agency owners) should keep a careful eye on it. In case it begins to happen at other companies, you should have a pivot plan in place to move with the trend.

To be a PR strategic thinker, watch trends. Pay attention to economic signals. Watch the big moves happening in the industry. Anticipate how it all could affect your career or your business.

2. Think critically

People tend to take things at face value and don’t use critical thinking skills to question what’s in front of them.

You see this happen online all the time. It’s why fake news exists.

When you get complacent, stop questioning or become less curious, you lose your competitive edge.

To be a PR strategic thinker, stop taking things at face value and use your brain.


3. Interpret

In the P&G example above, it might be easy to dismiss the company’s move as one big mistake. It’s easy to think, “Next we’ll be hearing news they’ve hired three more PR agencies.”

However, if you want to be considered a PR strategic thinker, you don’t take news at face value. You pay attention to what other large companies are doing, particularly trend-setters such as P&G and Visa and Johnson & Johnson.

Watch what they do with PR and with their agencies. Find similarities in how they launch campaigns, and interpret what you think that could mean for your organization or your client’s businesses.

To be a PR strategic thinker, you must watch trends, pay close attention to industry news and decipher what it means for you.

4. Decide

PR pros must fight analysis paralysis. If they get wrapped up in all the data and in trying to interpret what’s there, they paralyze themselves and can’t move forward.

In Sheryl Sandberg’sLean In,” she describes a poster they have on the wall at work, “It’s better to be finished than to be perfect.”

To be a PR strategic thinker, you have to be decisive, fast and finished.

5. Align

It is impossible to have true consensus, but a PR strategic thinker will listen to all sides, assess the risks, bring tough issues out in conversation and figure out where the balance is.

PR pros do this nearly every day. They know how to communicate with different stakeholders and turn brand detractors into loyalists.

How can you “align” the team you lead?

To be a PR strategic thinker, stop being fearful; use your communication skills.

6. Learn

To be a PR strategic thinker, you have to fail so you can learn. It’s the only way to do work on the other five habits.

What habits have led to your becoming a strategic thinker, PR Daily readers? Please share those traits in the comments.

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich. A version of this article originally appeared on the Spin Sucks blog.

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One Response to “6 habits that help PR pros think strategically”

    Emma Bannen says:

    As an aspiring PR professional, I’m always looking to develop habits that will make me better at what I do. I loved these suggestions for becoming a better strategic thinker. The thing that stuck out most was how action-oriented these habits are. I will definitely be practicing these habits in my daily life. —Emma Bannen, Platform Magazine writer/editor

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