Turning the page to a new year is a moment to look back at the past and forward to the future. And so, as we take our first steps into 2020, I find myself thinking about the two questions I’m consistently asked about life in the world of public relations.
The first is, “What is the biggest change you’ve seen in your career?” This one’s easy, because it’s a topic that’s dominated our discipline for years and shows no signs of letting up: the influence of digital technology on how information is disseminated and consumed.
Those of us who have been in the industry for decades have experienced this story firsthand – and anyone who’s joined in the past decade has spent their whole career wrestling its implications. In brief, technology has influenced communication through improved access—”the democratization of media“—and significantly diminished cost. It has radically altered how and where people consume information or connect with things that matter to them. All of this has inhibited the ability of institutions to control the management of their brands and given rise to the 24-7 news cycle. If you want to make an impact, you’d better have something interesting to say to stakeholders. And you’ll need to be willing to have that conversation on your audience’s terms, not yours.
The second question is, “Given the current state of the industry, what are the personal attributes that most directly lend to success?” My answer to this is simple, but I hope not simplistic. I believe every successful modern communicator needs three things in order to navigate this ever-changing landscape:
Grit: Public Relations is an endless series of challenges to be met and obstacles to overcome. People who find long–term success have a toughness about them, a mental steeliness that helps them weather the inevitable twists and turns. One of the most difficult parts of this job is the degree to which success is out of a PR person’s direct control—you can do all the right things and still fall short of your goals. Understanding that, and having the courage to attack the challenge again and again, is essential.
Adaptability: Today’s PR professional needs to have radar for change. The priorities have shifted, the competition has taken an unexpected step, the pop culture landscape has surfaced new opportunities. The ability to see what’s coming and pivot toward it—or away from the issues that causes—has never been in higher demand. The communicator with concrete feet will be the one left behind—and quickly.
Focus: Solving communications challenges is often an exercise in keeping an eagle eye on results that matter—to the client, to the program priorities, to your team. There will be dozens of unexpected realities that will threaten to take you and the brilliant plan you created off course. It’s the ownership of the results that matter, the North Star that enhances our chances of success and makes our work effective and efficient.
Diving headlong into the challenges of a new year is the perfect moment to check in and make sure we’re keeping these attributes top of mind. While the best of us bring so much more to work every day—creativity, empathy and analytical skills, to name a few—without grit, adaptability and focus, that North Star is much harder to find.