This post is part of The Plank Center’s Legacies from Legends in PR Series that was begun in recognition of the 40th Anniversary of the Public Relations Student Society of America in 2007.
Independent public relations consultant and the professional director of the public relations and advertising MA program at DePaul University. Prior to joining DePaul and becoming an independent public relations consultant, Ron Culp held senior public relations positions at four Fortune 500 corporations and two major agencies. Culp’s career spans a broad range of communications responsibilities in government and business-to-business, consumer products, pharmaceutical and retailing industries. Formerly responsible for Ketchum’s operations in Chicago and Pittsburgh; served as a global corporate strategist. Recipient of PRSA’s Gold Anvil (2015) and the Arthur W. Page Society’s Distinguished Service Award (2006).
Over the past 35 years, I have determined that the best public relations efforts are those that blend both common sense and experience in observing how people receive and react to new information. There is no precise roadmap to success, but I hope the following points will be helpful as you make your own journey within this challenging and exciting profession.
10 tips I wish someone had told me earlier in my career:
- Learn all the tasks in public relations, not just the “glamour” jobs. A broad background in the basics of the profession will allow you to find the areas you love, yet will make you a more valuable employee and colleague. From this broad base, you can focus on a specialty. As your career progresses, master a second area and maybe a third, which offers a fallback. In time you will have the breadth to tackle an upper-level generalist/leadership role.
- Good writing and editing are PR’s essential tools. Both require disciplined thought, rigorous attention to rule and detail and, of course, creativity. In the perpetual argument of speed versus accuracy, the latter wins hands down. Who wants to be the first– but wrong?
- Listen before you act. Action without thorough understanding is a “speed vs, accuracy” trap that can get you in trouble. Take the time to listen and process.
- Get connected/stay connected. Networking is a career-long necessity and pleasure that can start right now. Contacts I made in the 1970s are friends, colleagues and clients today. You simply cannot know too many people.
- Be interested and interesting. You can develop the personality skills needed to be a great networker by showing an active interest in others, and by stretching to broaden who you are. A tremendously rewarding way to increase engagement is giving back through non-profit opportunities in the community.
- You’re always in the middle – so get comfortable. We’re the peanut butter in every sandwich, whether it’s between the client and the media, your client contact and her boss or even between the client and our own business department. Don’t fulminate… facilitate.
- Collaboration wins… Gone are the days of the individual with all the answers. The client needs today are simply too varied, complex and urgent to rely on one view of the right solution… But trust your gut. Don’t hesitate to offer the outside view if the direction of the collaboration seems wrong.
- Be flexible… We are living in a global economy that is increasingly interconnected and mutually dependent. Working with others requires flexibility unprecedented at any time… But hold to your values. The business community doesn’t function properly without honesty and integrity at the core.
- Learn how to “tell truth to power.” One of the most important and most difficult jobs we face is delivering information to clients, bosses or colleagues who don’t necessarily want to hear what we have to say. The art is presenting in a way that doesn’t necessarily provoke but gets the message across. It’s a life skill, too – practice with a significant other or close friend.
- Champion diversity. Nearly 40 percent of those living in the United States are minorities. Because our job is to communicate effectively with broad and inclusive audiences, we need diversity at the table. It’s right, and it’s smart.
Observe others, work hard and be patient. The rewards can be significant!
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