Building PR Teams That Executives Will Trust and Adore

Businesswoman addressing colleagues

After 15 years in-house, I returned to #AgencyLife. I’ve been thinking (and learning) a lot about what it takes to build and lead an award-winning integrated communications unit that clients trust and adore.

One could drone on about strategic approaches, immersing yourself in business areas and dreaming up kick-butt creative. Those table stakes are critical to being a successful agency leader. But, building an agency team starts deeper than that: at a human level.

Hire People Smarter Than You

Dean Mastrojohn

We know finding talent isn’t easy. Finding the right talent sometimes feels near-impossible. This is especially true if you’re looking for the wrong things.

Hire people who are smarter than you, and who can teach you something. The leader should do more than teach and guide direct reports. Leaders should recognize gaps in their knowledge and capabilities, and allow staff to teach them.

Learning and growing are ongoing. Never shy away from picking up a skill. Just because you have a flashy title and a cushy office doesn’t mean you have all the answers. You probably don’t.

Solicit Diverse People, Opinions, and Perspectives

It is also important to hire people who have a variety of skill sets and experiences. For example, I worked with a small media relations team in the consumer products industry. It was comprised of former print and TV journalists, digital/social natives and traditional media relations pros. In addition, there were people who were transitioning from agencies and were new to the industry.

This is exactly how it should be. What you want to avoid is a team of clones, especially if you’re working client-side and in a particular industry. Hire talent from outside that industry. Give an agency person a chance to wow you.

If you’re building an agency team, client-side staffers could bring a wealth of experience navigating large complex organizations. They also might provide a fresh perspective on what it’s like to work in-house that you may have never truly appreciated.

Remember Where You Came From

Being a leader has nothing to do with a title, so get off your high-horse and join the rest of us here on planet Earth. It’s about giving your team room to grow and learn, establishing trusting relationships with each of your direct reports, and understanding the different stimuli that make people tick.

It’s about providing team members with opportunities to get out of their comfort zones. Understand that when people are uncomfortable, sometimes it’s because they’re learning and growing, resulting in a stronger and more knowledgeable team.

Being a leader is about dismantling silos. It is about finding ways for team members to work with others on the team, thereby opening an entirely new world of experiences for everyone.

As a leader, above all, be humble and never be fake. People can sense that from a mile away. Be yourself and self-aware of your leadership style. Course correct on-the-fly, when necessary. Ultimately, be true to yourself and don’t bend so much that you’ve completely changed the real you.

And, most important, have fun! Life is way too short to do it any other way.

Dean Mastrojohn is SVP, integrated media, at Y&R PR