Whether you’ve just started your first PR internship or you’re already several years into your career, chances are you’ve heard someone emphasize the importance of becoming a more strategic, trusted advisor to clients. I can recall a conversation with a manager early in my career where they shared that I was a great PR tactician, but I needed to become more strategic if I wanted to become a trusted PR advisor in the eyes of my clients.
I remember receiving a blank stare back at me when asked what steps I could take to achieve that goal. That’s stuck with me over the years, and I’ve often pondered what advice I might share with those in my shoes. Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic formula or even a handbook (at least not that I’ve found) to help you become that trusted advisor. While it doesn’t happen overnight, there are steps you can take to naturally – and more quickly – grow into that role
The tactical skills developed in the early stages of your career – building effective media lists, creating insightful interview briefing docs, drafting compelling coverage and activity reports, and the like – serve as the building blocks that will propel your career in the future. In my experience, once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, it’s all about personifying what I call the five P’s: peruse, prepare, participate and pay attention – all with a healthy dose of poise.
If you’ve selected PR as your profession of choice, hopefully you have an insatiable appetite for consuming news media. If you’re in tech PR like us, while it might be fun to read BuzzFeed or the Daily Skimm, that’s not likely to be particularly helpful to your clients. Sign up for daily and weekly email newsletters from all the relevant industry and vertical publications on your client’s media list. Take 15 or 20 minutes each day to really read through those, especially any articles that could relate to your client’s priorities. Create lists in Twitter and follow key reporters and editors at those publications. Get to know what they’re writing about. Understand what types of stories and news resonate with them. Over time, you’ll get to know their writing habits well enough that you can almost anticipate what they’ll write next.
We’re all busy, Zooming from one meeting to the next, all while trying to respond to the latest fire drill from a client. As a result, most of the time we show up just as a meeting is about to start. But preparation is key to becoming more valuable to your clients. To achieve this, I recommend blocking out the 15 minutes before a meeting on the calendar to “get in the zone.” Take a few minutes to review – and really consider – what’s on the agenda or in the status tracker for discussion in that meeting. If you’ve been on the team for more than a few months, you likely have a decent handle on the client’s PR priorities and business objectives. Use this time to reflect on current trends, competitor announcements, upcoming events, etc. and try to come up with two or three new ideas you’d like to present during that meeting.
Preparation makes it much easier – and less intimidating – to participate. You’ve been doing your homework and now you’re ready to speak up! One of the best ways to do that – aside from throwing out a proactive idea or two that you’ve identified – is to make sure you “own” a portion of the agenda. Talk with your account lead about an activity or two on that agenda that you can be responsible for discussing with the client during the meeting. For example, if you did all the research to compile their upcoming award submission, there’s no one better suited to explain the nomination draft to the client. This will give you the confidence to continue growing while also demonstrating the value of your insights and guidance in the eyes of your client.
There’s a good chance you’re asked to provide notes, share action items and update status trackers based on what’s discussed during your client meetings. That work is incredibly valuable and helps keep your account leads organized (we really cannot thank you enough!). But if you’re on mute and frantically typing notes the entire time, you’re likely missing out on those opportunities to participate in the meeting. What works for me when I’m in meetings and responsible for providing action items is to make sure I record the meeting, either in Zoom or using an app like Otter or Microsoft OneNote. That allows me to take very brief notes during the meeting so I can go back later to capture more detailed notes or action items while still fully participating in the meeting.
This last “P” is the one that I struggled with the most. I was that kid standing in front of English class giving a speech with visibly shaking knees while stammering my way through my notes. Much to the surprise of my colleagues, I’m sure, early in my career I rarely spoke up during client meetings (now they probably wish I’d shut up more often). Over time, if you’re following the previous steps, you should have a deeper understanding of your clients, their industries, competitors, technologies / products / services, and what media opportunities exist for them. You’re already participating in client meetings, now practice doing it with a healthy dose of self-confidence. You know more than perhaps you realize – it’s time to show it and shine!
These are the steps that helped me evolve from an introverted student in engineering to a PR pro over the past two decades. If you find yourself in a similar position as I did early in my career, hopefully these pointers will help you grow into the role of a strategic, trusted advisor to your clients.