PR Professionals as Leading Entrepreneurs

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Courtney Lukitsch of Gotham Public Relations

Entrepreneurial leadership, an asset frequently sought after in the business world, is equally valuable to aspiring professionals in the PR industry. PR pros’ jobs today are both multidisciplinary and business-oriented, thus requiring essential entrepreneurial skills. PR pros must always bear in mind that good leaders in both corporate and agency environments have responsibilities beyond merely promoting the client. In fact, they must consider every factor that may influence the overall business, their respective team, and themselves as a leader of leaders.

To grow as entrepreneurs, PR pros need to learn business development strategies, including cultivating a culture of innovation, fostering decision-making acumen, mastering client-side negotiating and sophisticated communication skills, training emerging PR pros through mentorship, and promoting the industry as a whole.

An entrepreneurial leader possesses vision. Entrepreneur Online states that successful leaders know where they want to go and what they must do to get there. In the PR world, forward thinking is foundational to most groundwork, as the ultimate goal of each and every agency client is to be ranked within the top tier of their industry. Innovative PR strategies come into play.

PR pros must not be timid as they lead each client to a higher level of strategic thinking and creative execution of marketing ideas. To target the right audience in the right way, being on top of (if not at the forefront of) trends is an indispensable asset for PR entrepreneurs. The PR leader is one who nourishes an innovative agency culture among colleagues, while simultaneously encouraging fresh thinking to inspire clients, helping them in the process to flourish within the larger national and global marketplace.

As pointed out by Entrepreneur, innovative thinkers share many common traits. Primarily, they look for patterns that aid in sensing or predicting potential business opportunities—as well as troubleshooting problems—before they arise. PR pros develop business acumen early, by anticipating change. Innovation does not only lead to the best product, but also the best process. In terms of PR, the process equates to understanding the context within a given industry, while strategizing how to advance it proactively through communication, marketing and sales.

The Institute for Public Relations conducted a survey with C-level executives and PR professionals, which resulted in 85% of the respondents indicating that it is “extremely important” for PR pros to have a solid background in business education and practice in the real world. Upper 90 Consulting founder Mark Bain also concludes that business fluency is fundamental for communicators at all levels. This applied business acumen and knowledge is often an overlooked factor in PR, but it is definitely crucial for PR pros as they grow their agencies strategically in 2016.

Edelman has set the bar high for offering its PR teams employee development training. Though as the largest agency in the world it is probably too big to be called an entrepreneur, its operating model is advisable to all agencies striving to grow in the PR field. The Edelman Learning Institute offers courses to team members for skillsets ranging from management skills to data security. It has become more important than ever that PR pros must be well-rounded in all areas and disciplines as the purview expands with digital, social, print and broadcast on a 24/7 basis. An entrepreneurial PR leader is always learning.

One of the world’s most famous entrepreneurs, also a master PR pro, Richard Branson is a role model for entrepreneurs in the current PR industry. He once said, “A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front page ad,” as quoted in PR News. Excellent client-side skills have contributed largely to his success in business. In an example provided by Cyber Alert, Branson once offered Virgin Atlantic customers limo rides when they got off the flight, and asked for their thoughts about what their experience was like and how it might be improved. It was a great way to get feedback and create a positive, shareable PR story for the entire company.

As an entrepreneur, his tactics are always PR-focused. Conversely, PR pros can learn from his way of creatively developing businesses. Media Buzz states that client relationships are most successful when clients see PR pros are positioned as their strategic business partner.

Strong entrepreneurs understand the value of new talent. A Forbes article states that vision is an essential quality for entrepreneurial leadership. As PR pros grow their businesses respectively, they gain help from younger team members. Creating high morale inside the organization becomes crucial to the success of the overall team. In order to optimize efficiency, PR leaders should utilize mentorship to increase agency efficiency and to optimize managed growth with results.

According to Harvard Business Review, strong mentorship does not only benefit the mentee, but also boosts productivity. Insightful PR leaders know how to foster an encouraging environment in order for their team to thrive, and they are willing to pass on what they have learned to these future business leaders.

For example, time management skills are vital in the PR industry for maintaining successful relationships with clients. A quintessential asset of any entrepreneurial leader, balancing multiple deadlines and demands simultaneously becomes an art form. Experienced PR pros are familiar and comfortable with the fast pace of the media industry, but good PR mentors will teach young professionals how to manage their time and adjust adeptly to the working routine of highly successful PR pros.

Meanwhile, one-on-one conversation and time investment helps mentors best figure out how to help staff accomplish assignments faster, and with a heightened sense of priority and commitment. Harvard Business Review also points out that giving away autonomy can increase staff confidence, as trusted employees are more motivated to do a good job on assignments because they believe that they add value to the entire PR agency team. Setting an example for PR talent to look up to in person and not only online is paramount.

In an era of increased expectations from PR pros in the industry, integrating entrepreneurial leadership into their work adds credibility client-side. It is time for PR agencies to examine their strategies and make changes from a business perspective when metrics are more important than ever. Only determined and resilient professionals can remain standing in this challenging field.

Courtney Lukitsch is founder and principal of Gotham Public Relations, founded in 2002 with design and development clients in 25 cities globally. Email her at courtney@gothampr.com

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