5 qualities for successful PR pros

Much about PR has shifted over the decades, from publishers moving to online-only to organizations using social media as a direct news delivery vehicle. PR pros who have continued to demonstrate five characteristics of good PR have successfully navigated the changes and honed their skills along the way.

If you are in PR or have a friend who is, you know the profession is swiftly evolving, a vastly different practice than it was 20 (even 10) years ago. Long gone are press tours spanning the continent or globe, following a schedule from content and image creation to meetings, follow-up and (hopefully) coverage. Shrinking revenues and extreme ad budget cuts after the dot-com bubble burst led to the shuttering of many print trade publications, including daily paper high tech sections. Social media platforms have radically shifted how news is consumed. Search engine algorithms have changed dramatically. And those are just a few.

I have PR friends who jumped ship and never looked back - for good reason. The profession - already riddled with a negative reputation for inaccurate spin, expensive agencies and lavish parties - has been difficult to navigate even without the shifts. However, there are several requirements that have not and should (dare I say will) not ever change. Following are just five.

1. Honesty. Complete honesty is first and foremost when it comes to good PR. You cannot lie. Well, you can, but you won’t get far and your reputation will soon be well-known (and not in a good way). Lying - aka spin, creative marketing, cloudwashing - is another name for “alternative facts.” Saying a product feature exists when it doesn’t (even if someone insists, “We’ll have it next year, just say we have it”) is the first step onto a slippery slope.

2. Relationship building. You take and return calls from people you know (and like) in your personal life; it’s the same in public relations. Much relies on relationships and people skills so PR pros must be responsive, helpful, professional and friendly. These characteristics are essential to success.

3. Knowledge. Nobody in tech PR can skate on relationships alone. It’s important, of course, but it is part of the overall effort to stay up to date on your market, competition, products, services, and customers, which in turn enables you to meet the needs of journalists and analysts. PR people need a firm grasp of the technology they’re promoting because this is what makes them invaluable (or at least preferred) to those who need information.

4. Clarity and relevance. Storytelling is a craft, and PR people must always ensure their writing is flawless, succinct, accurate (avoiding errors that can be amplified exponentially online), intentional (no late-night tweets after drinks) and last but not least, well-thought-out (insulting and bigoted tweeting is just stupid). Also, after a draft is finalized and before anything is pitched or published, every possible follow-up question should be addressed. Every. Single. One. “If this is a new product version, are there bugs that have been fixed, and what were they?” “Why isn’t there a customer quoted in your story?” These questions deserve honest answers.

Responding with “There were no bugs” and “All of our 159 customers have made us sign an NDA so we can’t tell you who they are” is not going to cut it for long; much better to answer with “Bugs in the GUI were addressed as well as a conflict resolution issue. Can I send you the white paper?” and “We were not able to get a customer to agree to go on record with this release but I can contact you when they’re willing to speak. Would that work?” Companies mustn’t be afraid to tell the truth; if answers to such questions can’t be provided honestly, consider waiting until they can be.

5. Creativity. Name recognition relies on consistent news. I’m not advocating non-news press releases (not at all), but regular announcements enforce name recognition and recall. There is often overlooked or forgotten content that can be publicized, such as the availability of a new white paper, local recognition for an employee, a new feature of a partnership program, or a newly-posted webinar replay. It isn’t hard to write news, the challenge is finding it; a good PR person uncovers news by staying in regular contact with executives, department heads, customers and employees. 

This is certainly not an exhaustive list but they are among the most important. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on other essential PR requirements.

While the landscape has morphed significantly over the past decades, PR hasn’t gone away - rather it’s transformed, providing countless learning experiences. For PR pros who have stayed put, honed their skills and adjusted to meet new demands, it’s been a pretty good ride.

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