9 Rules for Working With Senior Management

Maureen Huff, Time Warner Cable
Maureen Huff, Time Warner Cable

When you're just starting out in PR, you have a lot to learn. Aside from media relations, crisis management, measurement and all the other aspects of the trade, you have to learn how to function within the structured environment of a company. This means dealing with the higher-ups, which isn't always a simple matter.

Maureen Huff, vice president of public relations at Time Warner Cable, was on hand at PR News' Emerging Communicators Workshop at the Grand Hyatt in New York to pass along some advice she's earned from a long career in PR. Of particular use to up-and-coming communicators: a set of rules for working with bosses and executives (who today are more savvy and in touch than ever before).

  1. Empower the team to help control their own destiny. You have to share the wealth and have different points of view. The reason you want a diverse set of views is that when you present something to executives, you've already thought it through from several perspectives within the team. This helps you anticipate questions, objections and insights so you're better prepared all around.
  2. Communicate with clarity. Keep it short and sweet. When you talk to your boss, you're probably communicating with someone more knowledgeable than you, so don't feel the need to prove your knowledge. Just present the situation without drama.
  3. Understand your boss' style. Everyone is different and responds differently to certain approaches. Know that it's up to you to adapt, as the subordinate, but also know that it's not as hard as it seems. People with differing personalities can have an excellent work relationship.
  4. Remember, it's not about you. You think you're a PR expert. Everyone does. But everyone can't be right. When you're told "no, this is wrong," keep in mind that these things can be subjective, and try to take your ego out of the equation and accept criticism gracefully.
  5. Calm = reliable, credible. Act calm, especially in a crisis. So much of PR is serving as counsel and being credible. Think of yourself as a duck: appearing to glide gently along the surface of the water, but paddling like hell underneath.
  6. Be there first to deliver the bad news. Get there quickly and say "here's what happened, here's what we're doing to fix it, here's when we think it can be fixed." Doing this in a timely fashion is much more important than delivering good news. And remember being in this position when you eventually become the manager, so that you receive bad news with equanimity.
  7. Set the ground rules for making decisions. It's important to know which decisions you can make yourself and which you can't. These ground rules can be reset and revised from time to time, but it's important to know what you're empowered to do.
  8. Observe and learn. This includes observing body language. You can learn a lot by watching your CEO listen to somebody speak and react nonverbally. You can learn, for instance, who that CEO trusts and values most, and the style of communication he or she responds best to.
  9. Know when (and how) to say "no." You have to be able to disagree with your boss at times, so be clear on the accepted protocol for that. This goes back to item 3 and understanding your boss' style. Excessive politeness or no-nonsense? Saying "no" the right way can make all the difference.

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