After nearly three decades in the political, association, corporate and agency trenches of professional public relations, and the last four years intensely studying an increasingly complex industry from academic settings, Almost DailyBrett is ready to take a stab at the 17 essential qualities of the consummate PR practitioner.

Please note the list is not meant to be exhaustive and undoubtedly some vital characteristics will be missing. If that is the case, please let this humble blog know your thoughts. For better or for worse, here are the Top 17 attributes of the super-star public relations professionals in alphabetical order:

1. Attuned to the World 

Even though it is impossible to capture everything that is happening on this quickly changing planet, the best PR professionals are well versed even in cases in which their knowledge is one-mile wide and one-inch deep. They don’t know everything; they are not afraid and their ego will allow them to simply state: “I don’t know.” Having said that, they are good at getting to the bottom of an issue quickly, and then presenting the answer in the best interest of their employer/client. 

atlas2.“Be Quick, But Don’t Hurry”

The famous John Wooden quote definitely applies to super PR practitioners. Sometimes it is best to buy time. You may suspect you have the right answer, but your instinct guides you to seek out more. This is especially true in crisis situations. A great PR pro is quick, but never hasty. She or he instinctively knows that a rushed answer or editing of a vital document may result in a wrong response. The best counsel may be to quietly recite: “One Mississippi, Two Mississippi,” before offering a response. That little extra time can make all the difference in the world. 

3. Communications Choreography 

Similar to a producer or director of a Broadway play, the 21st Century PR star knows how to ensure that all the dancers, actors, actresses are in the right place, the lines are perfectly delivered and the music is on key. In the case of public relations, the research has been completed; the messages are composed; the communications are ready to be delivered, and the follow-up evaluation is set to be undertaken. It is without a doubt: Message-Candidate-Campaign in that order.

4. Confident Presentation Skills 

Glossophobia (e.g., fear of public speaking) is not in the vocabulary of the effective public relations professional. She or he responds with a smile, while deep down inside sneering at reportedly the number one fear of most people, public speaking. The great pro doesn’t seek out the stage, but doesn’t shy away for it either. Once there, the message is confidently delivered and questions are coolly answered.

janis

5. Constructive Listening 

Two of the most effective public relations professionals the author of Almost DailyBrett ever had the privilege to meet, are two of the best when it comes to constructive listening: Janis MacKenzie of MacKenzie Communications in San Francisco, and Bruce Entin of Silicon Valley Communication Partners. For both of them, the issues and concerns of you the client or you the subordinate are the only topics on their minds, even though in reality there are always many competing demands for their mental bandwidth. The point is they made time for you. They care. They are ready to help.

Entin

6. Cool Under Pressure

Did someone mention the word, “cool?” We are not talking about being smooth. Instead, we are focusing on a skilled communicator that stays composed when others are losing their heads. Is the company stock down five points? Does a product need to be recalled? Is the CEO being terminated? At least the Bay Bridge is not in the water (remember being told, just that). The sun will come up in the morning. The birds will chirp. The bees will buzz. Life will go on. 

7. Doberman, Not A Cocker Spaniel 

A Cocker Spaniel PR practitioner is simply proficient in providing necessary information to the conventional and digital media. A Doberman PR pro is just as knowledgeable, but even more to the point is also an impassioned advocate and will fiercely guard and protect the reputation and brand of the client/employer. If getting into a fight with a reporter/editor/analyst is deemed necessary, then that is what the job requires. The cheap-shot stops here.

8. Expansive Vocabulary 

A winning public relations professional is a well-read/versed professional. This practitioner is skilled in the use of English, the lingua franca of international business. Knowledge of a second or third language is highly desirable in our digitally flattened global village. It is not just a matter of knowing the words and the meanings behind them, but the right words at the right time in the right settings.

9. Fiduciary Responsibility & CSR 

It has become de rigueur for a public relations professional to advocate corporate social responsibility (CSR) or “doing good.” The best PR practitioners balance CSR with fiduciary responsibility or “doing well.” Fiduciary Responsibility and CSR are not mutually exclusive. PR pros, who understand this undeniable truth, have a better chance of being invited to sit at the boardroom table.

10. Great Student/Lifelong Learner 

What is the next killer app? What is the next “destructive technology?” How is social, mobile and cloud driving technology? What is the next driving mantra in global communications (e.g., radical transparency)? How can we best show (e.g., infographics) as well as speak and write? These are all questions that are constantly pondered by the student, lifelong-learner, PR pro.

11. Honest, Ethical, Reliable 

The first two of PRSA’s core values are “responsible advocacy” and “honesty.” Public relations practitioners are not Switzerland. They are not neutral. They are advocates. Some contend that PR pros cannot be persuasive advocates, advancing a well-researched set of arguments, and maintaining the highest standards of integrity at the same time.

Au contraire!

12. Offensive Without Being Offensive 

Being able to passionately debate crucial points and not make it personal with those who differ is a vital skill, not in great supply. Can you be offensive without being offensive? The best PR pros know, the most important public relations are personal public relations, and that includes interactions with work colleagues and teammates.

13. Qualitative and Quantitative

In our increasingly complex digital world, we cannot escape numbers and statistics. As Chris Roush of the University of North Carolina wrote in his Show Me the Money, behind every number is a story. The superb PR pro, particularly those in corporate public relations and investor relations, can build relationships (qualitative skills) with those closely following publicly traded corporations (e.g., investors, analysts, employees, suppliers, distributors). They are just as adept in reading income statements, balance sheets, cash-flow statements and interpreting the psychology of global markets (quantitative skills).

hoar

14. Refined Sense of Humor

One of the legendary public relations professionals in Silicon Valley history (i.e., Apple, Fairchild, Miller/Shandwick Technologies) was also one of the funniest, the late Fred Hoar. As he was fond of telling anybody and everybody, “that’s Fred, spelled F-R-E-D.” Every year, he served as the master of ceremonies for the SIA (Semiconductor Industry Association) Forecast and Award Dinner, and brought down the house each time with his “hick and stick.” Yours truly was charged with determining whether Fred’s humor met the standards for mixed company in a business setting. Guess you win some and lose some. Regardless, Fred was a crack-up and delightful to know.

15. Superior Judgment

The best PR pros instinctively know the difference between being “bright” and being “smart.” They are not the same. The latter is much more valuable than the former. Sometimes rocket scientists are best being left on the launching pad or maybe just at their workstations. Some are good at stakeholder relationships; some are not. That is why smart PR pros, who can provide sage counsel to those of infinite wisdom, are the best and the brightest in our profession.

16. Tech Savvy 

The 21st Century public relations practitioner is digital, not analog. As Thomas Friedman wrote in The World is Flat, the planet has been made measures of magnitude smaller by the ones-and-zeroes of binary code. All brands and reputations are in 24/7/365 play as a result of instantaneous digital publishing. The Genie is not going back into the lantern. Forward-looking PR professionals embrace new technology communications tools, and are always looking to the horizon for the next destructive technology force. During the course of my career, no PR pro was better in studying engineering and technology than Howard High of Intel, now with life sciences company, Fluidigm Corporation.howardhigh

17. Thought Leader 

Not only do the best PR pros advocate thought leadership by clients, who have proved standing on critical issues of public interest, they also use digital (i.e., blogging, social media, infographics) and conventional tools (i.e., presentations, commentaries, contributed articles etc.). They are always learning and as a result, they have wisdom to share and sage counsel to provide … particularly as it applies to instantaneous world of communications.

Editor’s Note: As the former SIA director of Communications, Janis and her firm served as our PR counselor. Fred was everyone’s friend, and the “Valley” is not the same without him. Howard was the chair of the SIA Communications Committee and provided invaluable counsel as the industry was finally able to open the Japan market. Bruce was my first superior during my decade at LSI Logic. He was the best boss in my career, and now is an even better friend. Naturally these are not the only PR super-stars on the planet, but they are fine examples of the species.

http://www.prsa.org/aboutprsa/ethics/codeenglish/#.VI4DuZU5BCo

http://www.mackenziesf.com/about/janis-mackenzie/

http://siliconvalleycom.com/Bruce_Entin.html

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Frederick-Hoar-Silicon-Valley-master-of-PR-2831416.php

https://www.linkedin.com/pub/howard-high/12/aa6/b06

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