Dig Deeper for Yourself and Your PR Team

Mike McDougall
Mike McDougall

Throughout the past 15 years I’ve been privileged to speak before thousands of public relations peers around the world. Sponsored by some of the leading organizations in the field, conferences such as these are incredible in their capacity to disseminate advanced communications thinking, helping broaden the knowledge of teams and individuals. But too many communicators show up at these venues, take a few notes, and consider the professional development box “checked.” The blinders are on.

While the caliber of PR-focused training is at an all-time high, communicators are suffering from being too narrowly concentrated on “PR” issues.

Social media platforms, new analytical approaches and media relations techniques are important. But they’re not the only components of a highly competent professional who needs to be comfortable not just advising organizations, but leading them.

You need to look beyond the typical options for professional PR development, starting with these avenues.

Hyper-focused industry conferences. Today, you’re showing up for trade shows in media relations or marketing capacities, attending briefings, working the booth and keeping your colleagues on the straight-and-narrow. But dig just a bit deeper, and you’ll find yourself becoming even more knowledgeable about the industry in which you’re immersed every day.

Get outside your comfort zone. Sit in educational track sessions that cover arcane topics, soaking up the content and the language of the room. Wander the poster sessions and ask salient questions of the scientists standing idly by their small tables. Shadow a colleague from a different department, using her as a translator for unfamiliar terminology.

Innovation symposia. About five years ago I found myself at a project management innovation conference, having agreed to serve on a new product development panel.

As one of the few non-project management professionals in the ballroom, I was nervous. Yet the assembled architects, researchers and engineers showed me new ways to tackle obstacles.

Locate general innovation conferences that may spark new ideas. As TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) events have proliferated, this option has become realistic even in smaller communities.

The ‘MOOC’ magnet. When some of the most prestigious institutions in the world offer courses that you can take from anywhere at no charge, how can you look away? The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) movement has spawned once unheard of professional development opportunities.

Delve into the sciences, arts and humanities, IT and business from the convenience of your tablet or laptop.

Brush up on old subjects where your real world experience can illuminate theories encountered during your college years. Or sample a new area of interest that sets you apart from office peers. Introduce MOOCs to your team, encouraging colleagues to enroll in the same course.

Functional insights trading. Chances are you share a lunch table now and then with a friend from HR. Carpool with that guy in Accounting. Collaborate on a heated project with the legal team. But do you really know what their daily work entails?

Bring yourself back to when you shadowed professionals as part of your career exploration.Try and get inside the heads of your colleagues. Spend 30 minutes with someone in another function once a week, moving beyond the small talk of “how’s your day?” to probing what actions they’re taking and why. Explore how their world intersects with yours. Find the hidden connections.

Explore at random. It may be the simplest recommendation of all: Stay curious. Push yourself beyond your typical reading, viewing and listening habits to pick up a magazine, watch a video or tune into an audio stream that seemingly has no relation to your usual interests. Then study what’s being said, with the intent of taking away at least one new concept.

If you find yourself in any situation and feel like you’re not learning something, don’t blame the others. Place the responsibility on yourself.

Even the most mundane environments, conversations and personal interactions are ripe for harvesting new knowledge. Remember that sometimes the most succulent fruits aren’t in the open, but slightly hidden beneath the leaves. Reach in and grab them. PRN


Mike McDougall is president of McDougall Communications. He can be reached at mike@mcdougallpr.com or via Twitter, @McDougallPR.

Mike McDougall is president of McDougall Communications. He can be reached at mike@mcdougallpr.com or via Twitter, @McDougallPR.