What It Takes to Be a PR Person

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PR is an intense and difficult job that can be rewarding and disappointing. It can be exciting, and mind-numbingly boring. PR, more often than not, is misunderstood by people outside of the industry. Increasingly, the lines between PR, marketing and advertising are becoming more blurred, taking the industry into a new direction. In short, once you get below the surface, PR is not what it appears to be from the outside.

To be a PR person, I feel you need to posses a certain skill set that can be broken down into two categories: human skills and professional skills. Human skills include things such as patience and congeniality, while professional skills include the ability to speak publicly and write professionally.

To help break down the skills required to be a PR person, I turned to my friend Jeremy Pepper at POP! Public Relations.  Jeremy suggested I look no further than his PR Face2Face series of interviews on his weblog (http://pop-pr.blogspot.com) to see what some of the PR world’s brightest minds have had to say on the subject of what makes a good PR person. I’ve interspersed quotes from these interviews with my own thoughts.


– Patience: Whether it’s waiting to hear back from journalists or producers that you have pitched, or simply understanding that a PR campaign takes time to gain traction and evolve, if you don’t have patience, you will never be able to do this job. Now, if we could only get our clients to be so patient!

Arm Pump

– Congeniality: Ever met a PR person who comes off like a jerk? I have, and I’ve noticed that such people don’t stay in their jobs too long (unless they work at The White House). If you’re not friendly and sociable, why are you in a job that requires you to be so?

– Controlled Aggression: The worst PR people are either too passive or overly aggressive. The middle ground is what I call “controlled aggression,” which means you know when to turn on your adrenaline and when to turn it off.

– Critical Thinking: “The most important thing is to think like a journalist.” – Ronn Torossian, Founder, President & CEO, 5WPR

– Nerves: Be it the nerve to cold-call a reporter on deadline, or the nerve to get up in front of a bank of microphones and disclose bad news, it takes a streak of cold blood to be able to do PR.

– Verbosity and Simplicity: The ability to communicate in grand ways and on simple terms is a must. If you’re not comfortable speaking to an audience of white-collar executives as well as to an audience of blue-collar hourly-wage earners, you won’t be able to do this job.

– Thirst for Knowledge: The best PR people are people who can put things into context. The ability to take an idea and narrow or broaden it is important when it comes to pitching a story, as well as when it comes to figuring out how to target your story. “If you are not knowledgeable on what is going on today, how do you advise clients or companies on what to do tomorrow?” – Al Golin, Chairman, GolinHarris

– Ethics: “The people have to come to the standard that I value, and draw that ethical line in the sand and never cross it. Be a straight shooter, don’t lie. Anyone that is devious in public relations is going to be found out, and will fail.” – Howard Rubenstein, President, Rubenstein Associates


– Writing: You don’t have to be a novelist, but if you can’t write a decent letter, memo or, most importantly, press release, then you shouldn’t be a PR person. Despite the proliferation of email and instant messaging, the ability to communicate via the written word is something lost on many people who have grown up in the electronic age. We’ve all probably received emails and messages that come off as sarcastic without meaning to be so. There are no shortcuts to writing a professional communication, but more and more I’m seeing press releases and pitches penned by people who appear to have flunked English 101.

– Writing, Part II: “Writing skills are the most difficult thing to find. Once people can write, I feel that pretty much everything else we can teach.” – Jeffrey Sharlach, Chairman and CEO, The Jeffrey Group

– Orating: Public speaking is not easy, and it certainly takes most people time to get comfortable in front of a large group of people. Nonetheless, PR people need to be able to articulate their thoughts and their company’s story in front of an audience, be it a group of employees or a swarm of media.

– Internet-Enabled: PR takes an immense amount of research, and PR people who don’t understand tools such as blogs, search engines, and premium search services suffer the consequences. Knowing how to find Google or Technorati is not enough – you need to understand how to utilize these resources as well.

– Multi-Tasking: I don’t mean the ability to talk on the phone and play solitaire. If you can’t pitch the media, pitch prospective clients, take part in crisis-control initiatives, and help clients formulate a strategy beyond PR, then you’re in the wrong game. Specialty PR is fine if you’re proven in the field, but a well-rounded PR person can handle everything from sales to client handholding.

The ideal PR person, in my book, is like what baseball scouts call a “five-tool” player: 1) hitting for average, 2) hitting for power, 3) running for speed, 4) arm strength, and 5) fielding ability.

“Five-tool players get the key hits, big home runs, timely stolen bases, they throw out the tying run at the plate and make spectacular defensive plays,” Mark Bonavita wrote in The Sporting News back in 1999.

Ask yourself if you’re getting the key hits, hitting the big home runs, stealing a timely base, throwing out the runner at the plate, and making spectacular plays in the field. If you’re not, it may be time to relearn some PR basics and learn some new tricks. Or, perhaps, think about a new career.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (https://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (https://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: https://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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