In public relations, we often focus on external deliverables—what press release or byline do we need to write, or what pitch do we need to send to which journalist when. The focus on observable results can make it easy to push “internal” priorities to the backburner when you’re putting out client fires.
But that’s a huge mistake.
As a manager, you have the unique opportunity to help mold the PR pros of tomorrow. Whether you were just assigned your first direct report, or you’re on the lookout for ways to improve your management skills, here are a few tips for making the most out of your relationship to your team and becoming the manager you loved (or always wished for):
Set them up for success
When you engage with a new direct report, the first three meetings are the most important—those are the ones that establish expectations, create a cadence and build a habit. So, use them wisely:
1. Create a safe space. Your new direct report will likely be nervous—perhaps this is their first job out of college, or their last PR job was less-than-ideal. Assure them that no question is too silly and no struggle is too insignificant to discuss. This is why you’re here.
2. Understand how they do their best work. Everyone learns, works and recharges differently. Understanding your direct report’s preferences will help you communicate effectively and create a more positive working environment. Good questions to ask include:
- When and where do you do your best work?
- What do you find stressful?
- How do you like to receive positive or constructive feedback?
3. Establish a cadence. Ask your direct report how often they’d like to meet with you, and in what format. Some of those I’ve managed have preferred a monthly meeting in-person and off-campus, while others prefer a weekly call or video chat. Whatever format you decide, let your direct report know that you can be flexible, and willing to shift depending on their needs.
Early on in your coaching relationship, have a focused discussion on goals. What does your direct report want to do? Become a stronger writer? Grow their professional network? Dig into a new industry or subject matter?
Knowing what their goals are can help you keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities for them.
Then check in on progress in a regular cadence (quarterly, annually). This can provide an opportunity to celebrate achieving goals, discuss ways to reach the goals not-yet-achieved, and open the conversation for new goals to reach for.
Make commitments, then keep them
Your relationship with your direct report is special—they trust your advice and that you have their best interests at heart. So, make sure you honor that relationship by keeping your promises.
When you commit to doing something, do it right away. Providing an update 30 minutes after you get off the phone with anyone you manage, even if it’s an interim update like, “I spoke with X and we’re considering the best next steps.” This helps your direct report feel like they’re your top priority. You don’t have to promise action following every meeting, but when you do, put it at the top of your list.
Share experiences: The good, the bad and the teaching moments
Newer PR pros often look to more established folks to learn from their experiences. While recounting your victory stories of the best launch ever or a crisis near-miss are helpful, don’t forget to share the less sunny experiences when you messed something up or learned a valuable lesson. These are the experiences that can help you relate to the challenges your direct report might be facing, or help them learn from your mistake so they don’t make the same one.
Of course, only tell stories you’re comfortable sharing and that have some sort of takeaway, and make sure they’re true. You’re sharing to build trust, offer insight and help grow a stronger PR professional—this isn’t the time to take creative license on a “based on a true story.”
Recognize goodness, and make it your own
As a seasoned PR professional, you’ve probably already started to recognize the things that your managers do or have done that you like. Identify those traits and make a conscious effort to incorporate them into your own management style.
On the flip side, if your direct report tells you about an uncomfortable conversation with a colleague—say a meeting where someone was trying to deliver feedback, but did it in an unproductive manner—consider how you can learn from their experience and deliver your own feedback in a way that’s more productive.
A final thought: the ”friendly reminder”
PR pros are busy creatures. If there’s something you almost forgot to do, or a confusing policy that you finally got clarity on, pass that information along to your direct reports—everybody can use a friendly reminder:
1. Is it the last day of the month? Send a Slack reminder about end-of-month expense reports or hours entry.
2. Any employer benefits people often don’t take advantage of? Send an email about how it works and offer to answer any questions.
Just a few thoughtful minutes can make a world of difference for a young PR pro looking up to you—and it can be incredibly rewarding to know you had a hand in helping someone grow their career.
Katherine Grubaugh is a vice president with Method Communications.