Friday, May 14, 2010

Deirdre Breakenridge: My PR Advice to the Class of 2010

I thought one of the most important questions during the Wednesday night #PRStudchat Celebration of the Class of 2010 was, “What is your advice to the Class of 2010.” The response was overwhelming and advice was offered that touched on everything from how to network and excel in your career to PR accountability and ethics.

There were three special Graduation Speakers who took part in the celebration and I want to not only thank them personally for their participation, but also highlight their great advice.

First, @laermer, @PRsarahevans and @BrianSolis, thank you for your contribution to our #PRstudchat graduation. Your words of wisdom were deeply appreciated by our community.

Here’s what our Graduation Speakers had to say:


Believe in your own abilities. A lot of people think somehow others will ‘notice them’ but you have to show em. #prstudchat

Q3 Take a break from work every day. Even if you don’t think you need it. (Like a cleaning at the dentist==yearly.)


The best advice I received as a new pro, “work like you’re not afraid to be fired.” I’ve kept it w/ me .. #prstudchat

You are not lesser than anyone in an organization because of experience. You bring valuable skills, creativity and promise! #prstudchat


The distance between who I am & who I want to be is separated only by my actions & words #PRStudchat

I, too, offered advice to the students and it was short and sweet, although I have a lot more to say. My tweet said:

“Listen, learn and practice, then give back to the community!”

This little piece of advice is what I’ve done throughout my entire career (even as student and then as an intern). Let’s start with “Listen.” My very first mentor talked to me about listening. He said, “If you listen long and hard you will do very well in this business.” Of course, we talk a lot about listening today in the social sphere and it’s tremendous importance. But, when I say listen, I mean to all types of conversations, everywhere and in every situation. I started to hone my listening skills early on by writing everything down in company meetings, during phone conversations and when interacting with clients (I had a yellow pad and/or a notebook practically attached to me).

I found out quickly that listening takes time and requires great skills. It’s true that we only retain a small percentage of what we hear. I believe that sometimes when we think we’re listening, we’re really thinking about the next thing that we want to say or contribute to the discussion. Once that happens, we automatically stop listening. Hold that thought, wait and listen some more. It’s only when you are really listening that you can offer advice. You must have a complete picture in your mind and it has to match what’s being said, with all the pieces to analyze, in order to solve a challenge. If we only listen partially and then act too quickly, our solutions may end up purely reactive and temporary. Sometimes listening means sitting back and connecting the dots.

Listening also means “hearing” when no one else is paying attention. There were times, in the past, when I would be in a meeting and an executive would go on and on about a topic. Other employees would joke, “How many times are we going to hear this?” I figured out that if I could find the meaning in the repetition, while others were complaining (doodling or planning their shopping lists), then I would pick up some valuable knowledge about that executive or the message that he/she was really trying to get across to the team, even if it appeared repetitive. Note: The executive suite is looking for real listeners, who can interpret and solve their issues.

The “Learn” part of my advice for the Class of 2010 is what I call “the climb.” If I can offer any advice here, it’s don’t neglect that climb. There’s a reason why your supervisor wants you learn the ins and outs of day-to-day PR life or the nitty, gritty details of a new office software program (even if it appears to be mundane or busy work) or why that same supervisor sends you whitepapers and countless documents for you to review. Soak it all up and learn as much as you can. There’s also genuine logic as to why junior people start with research and monitoring (this used to be compiling the clip books) and helping with news releases and media alerts to hone their writing skills (of course, not the fluffy releases, but the really good stories). Your higher ups are not trying to punish you (whether it’s a manager or an executive), when they want you to know everything about PR. It’s the climb that teaches you and prepares you for everything that you’re about to experience.

I’ve always believed that you have to experience and master something yourself before you can teach someone else. When I put the pieces together about my own climb, there was a reason I enthusiastically set up our small NYC office every morning, before the executives arrived. I’m thankful that my office manager showed me what to do because I knew exactly what to do when it came time to run my own office, and when I had to show someone else. So many want to race past the climb to advance to a higher level, to take part in the strategy and present at the big client pitch. Whether it’s climbing the corporate ladder or moving up in rank at your agency, I still believe that it’s critical to learn all the steps in between and experience what you are going to be managing and/or supervising in the years to come.

The “Practice” part of my advice will never stop in your career. As PR is constantly changing, you always have to roll up your sleeves to be a part of the team to embrace a client’s challenges (getting involved in an account way beyond just the strategy and planning). The opportunity to practice every moving part should never leave you. Although you will grow in your career, with new approaches and the blending of PR, social media, marketing and Web, you may find yourself in the “trenches” with the team more often. This enables you to move to the next part of my advice, which is the “give back the most updated information to your community”. If you don’t continually experience all of the changes (especially the technology), and how they affect your client’s as well as your own brands, then how do you know what really needs to be set in place to be successful in today’s marketplace. By continuing to practice the very latest techniques (and I do mean by doing it yourself and working closely with your team) you will stay on top of your game and always be a valued asset in your organization.

Lastly, my advice focuses on giving back to the community. As you reach new PR heights, reflect on all of those special professionals who have helped you and in the spirit of community, and for all that you’ve received, take the very same approach. As you get, always give back, and the cycle will continue with someone else.

I wish all of the graduates the best of luck in their PR endeavors! Do you have any more advice for the Class of 2010? Deirdre Breakenridge

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