Five PR Management Tips They Don’t Teach You in College

A group of aspiring PR pros peppered me with questions recently. Their queries reflected the same naiveté I had at their age. Despite a college degree in PR and multiple agency internships, I lacked exposure to a critical part of the job: managing expectations of those you represent.

This interpersonal skill often is excluded from college curriculums in favor of more measurable learnings, like storytelling and content analysis. PR students are led to believe that good grades will translate into satisfied clients. In class, the prospect of a corporate executive debating with you about PR tactics is rarely discussed. In addition, the need to educate executives and clients often is missing from the curriculum.

Here’s what I’ve learned about managing expectations and the executives you represent during my four years in the workforce, otherwise known as the college of hard knocks:

Be a consultant, not an orderly 

Companies hire PR pros for their expertise. Provide it. While decisions are ultimately up to the client, it’s typically worth it to respectfully counter any ill-fated ideas they propose.

Many companies like to think all their activities—from app upgrades to sales milestones—deserve feature story attention. It’s the PR pro’s job to educate them. For example, if an executive lacking PR expertise wants to you to create a press release about an un-newsworthy item, you could suggest discussing the topic on the company blog, instead.

Objective results reporting is taught often in PR classes. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about applying conflict-resolution skills when you have to report poor results. Some PR pros prefer to prop up the truth with euphemisms and excuses. Rarely do they think about offering a better alternative.

Try this approach: Tell those you represent or report to why something went south--even if it means admitting fault. Then offer a well-planned solution. Most people don’t expect unconditional perfection, but they want the truth.

Reverse engineer objectives

Some PR practitioners use the same template for each effort. It’s an easy way to get all the boxes checked, right? Of course, to successfully drive results, PR strategies need to be individually crafted.

Before diving into strategy and tactics, know the goals and objectives of the campaign. In addition, do your research. Dig deep into the business as well as external factors, such as the state of the industry. Is it evolving and enigmatic or conventional? Also examine competitors’ PR. What does/doesn’t work for them? Measure the messaging and tactics you’re considering against reality prior to implementing them to avoid shortcomings and mismanaged expectations.

Paid, shared, and owned complement earned media

While many executives consider earned coverage in a major outlet is the holy grail, PR pros know things are more subtle. The media landscape is fragmented. Placement in industry trades might work better in some situations. In addition, earned media alone may not be enough to move the needle. Blogs, social media, and sponsored posts are useful tools for companies wanting to stay relevant. In certain cases, they can be more effective than earned content.

Back good pitches with strong relationships

This is especially true for lesser-known entities, such as startups. With PR pros outnumbering journalists 6-1, the chances that your email will be opened, read, and considered are slim – unless the reporter knows your name. PR pros must take the initiative to engage with journalists beyond just firing pitches at them. Good places to start include following relevant media professionals on Twitter, inviting them for coffee, and sharing a sincere response to their content, without shilling your company. Earning a journalist’s trust and respect is an important step toward working with them on a story.

Be a connector

This part of the job includes connecting brand messages to establish an overarching narrative, connecting executives and their companies with tactical opportunities, and connecting journalists with useful sources. To be a good connector, you need to master the balance between seeing the larger picture and identifying the smaller factors that help paint it.

Larissa Bundziak is PR professional based in San Francisco.