Born to be in PR? 9-year-old me takes us back to the basics

This past weekend, I trekked back to my old stomping grounds in College Station, Texas to co-host an old friend’s baby shower. (I am at that point in life where the appropriate response to a friend’s baby news is now “Congratulations!” rather than “Wow, how do you feel about it?” – it’s all still new to me.) Thankfully, my Mom and stepdad still live in the area, so I got some time away from baby talk to catch up and lounge around in their new-old 1930’s-built house.

On Saturday night, my Mom handed me a bag containing a few notebooks and papers that her Mom had passed off to her the weekend before. My Grandmom has been sloooowly cleaning out the old “clubhouse” over the years, a tiny-yet-huge closet in her house that my cousin and I had taken over for our childhood exploits. I think it makes her just as sad as it makes me thinking of the clubhouse being totally empty, since we lost my cousin 7 years ago, way too young. But about the notebooks. Our “T.V. Club” (for Taylor + Valerie, also known as the “Totally Fun Club,” of course) required a lot of planning. Based on the notebooks, you’d think all we did was plan – which was mostly the case, aside from the occasional spy mission or theatrical/choral performance.

When I was reading through one of my old club notebooks, circa age 9, I laughed to the point of tears at the ridiculousness of it. I’ve included an old page here (click through to read it bigger) that really got me thinking. As rudimentary and silly as these ideas were, they say something about who I was, and who I am. Aside from being a huge nerd, when I read it, I thought to myself, “huh, I didn’t even know it until I was three years into college, but I was kind of destined for this career.”

As with any career, there are certain must-have traits for those who want to be successful in marketing and PR. While diversity among the types of people and ideas is a must, these seem to be universally necessary traits/tendencies for professionals in this business. Sure, they might seem rather “duh” (#5 on my IDEAS list anyone?) but my mantra for 2011 has been “back to the basics,” and I think there are messages here that we all need reminders of if we want to try to strengthen the reputation of our own industry:

  1. Be proactive – I mean, really: One of our clients recently hired a new director of marketing, and in our first meeting, she was very concerned about trade show media appointments. She mentioned that at her previous company, the PR agency didn’t prep the executives with briefing books or confirm the media appointments before the show. Come on! And in a recent new business meeting, a company’s CEO told us that his PR firm didn’t proactively pitch or set media appointments at shows, and only seemed to handle reactive inquiries. The only excuse for that would be a bare bones budget, and even then, there’s a major communication gap going on. Speaking of which…
  2. Communication is about more than just words: In the digital world, understanding the nuances of communication has become more, not less important. Where we previously could rely heavily on body language to “read” someone, the majority of our communication is online – we have to rely on our keen ability to decipher the subtleties of email/chat/Twitter communication, without reading into things that maybe don’t have an underlying tone. It’s an art, to say the least.
  3. Image matters: (Or as 9-year-old me put it, “look official” and “be known for something.”) You would think this would be a no-brainer in this industry, but I have seen PR firm websites that make me think I must have accidentally stumbled into the Wayback Machine. While we are proud of the image we’ve created at our office and the KG “storefront” at, we view our image as a constant journey – something that is never done and must always be growing and evolving along with us and our clients.
  4. Always be genuine: Authenticity is the other side of the image coin. Again, we’ve all met them – PR firms or “professionals” who are all smoke and mirrors, and have fluffed their way through their career by having a killer image. Sure, the image is important, but if you can’t back it up with authenticity and experience, your clients will find out, and they’ll be mad that it probably took them a few thousand bucks before they did. The bad part? These people likely don’t know they need to work on their authenticity, because maybe no one’s every confronted them about it. All you “social media ninjas” out there, take note, and while you’re at it, look up the word “ninja.”
  5. Get excited!: Seriously, people – we live in the future! This is an insanely exciting time to be working in PR and marketing, but don’t get me wrong, it is also frustrating for many of the same reasons. With more tools than ever, clients expect more than ever – more results, more measurement, more accountability, more instant hits on all the top blogs. It can be easy to get down when we realize how much we have to keep learning everyday, or when things happen with clients that we don’t expect. But that’s all the more reason to get off your ‘tocks and get energized – because when that kind of energy is real, people are drawn to it. And a tip – this may involve leaving the office and going for a mid-day brisk walk or going out for an impromptu frozen yogurt from time to time.

I make these points not to berate others in the industry for giving PR a bad rap, but to remind us all that we need to go back to the basics. What would the 9-year-old you say about how you are conducting yourself in the business world? Are you keeping it real? Are you excited about what you’re doing? If you didn’t answer with a resounding “yes,” I want you to drop what you’re working on and find the nearest swing set.

Did I miss any key characteristics? Do you agree/disagree with these points? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments!

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