Ogilvy’s Habits of PR Success: How to Gain a Following Outside of Social Media Channels
By Kate Cronin, Managing Director of Ogilvy Public Relations NY; Global Managing Director of the Agency’s Healthcare Practice
Regardless of your area of expertise, there is no question that social media is a critical factor in the field of public relations today, not only as a communications channel for your clients to consider, but also when building your own personal brand online. From monitoring and responding to important client issues in real-time, gaining valuable insights directly from your target audience, and building a strong professional network on sites like LinkedIn, social media has changed—and will continue to evolve—our business dramatically. While I will caveat that The Holmes Report recently named my firm, Ogilvy Public Relations the Social/Digital Agency of the Year—an accolade we are very proud of—online prowess is only one component to building a comprehensive skill set. It’s crucial to remember the “offline” abilities that also help you become an influential PR professional.
Quite simply, success in the public relations industry can be summarized into two categories: hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills, like writing, presenting, and increasingly social media competencies are and will continue to be important and those abilities can be learned and honed over time. For example, one can take a writing course, hire a public speaking coach, and embed oneself in various social communities. But what is often harder to learn and requires more attention and focus is the area of the “soft-skills.” One can’t buy Intuition for Dummies (I checked to be sure), but you can recognize these behaviors in others and repeatedly emulate a tailored approach—there is no one-size-fits-all methodology to interpersonal skills and influence.
At Ogilvy, we take these soft skills to heart so much so that we integrated them into our performance management process. A critical area of focus is the “Eight Habits of Success,” stemming from our founder David Ogilvy’s trademark characteristics, where our employees are evaluated on demonstrated courage, idealism, curiosity, playfulness, candor, intuition, free-spiritedness, and persistence. While some may argue these habits are not all created equally or perhaps too subjective (I will admit that I’m certainly not playful before I’ve had my coffee), we try not to take ourselves too seriously—these traits keep us grounded.
Listening: Check Your Agenda at the Door
Before you assume you know what’s best for your client, colleagues, the barista from your local coffee shop, or anyone, listening is the crucial first step before offering unsolicited—and potentially misguided—opinions and advice. People often think you need to talk to demonstrate you can contribute. Wrong. You need to listen first then ask smart follow-up questions and provide guidance that shows you understand their perspective and can offer personalized solutions to help.
Embrace an “Eye Around the Corner” Mentality
One of the harder attributes to hone is intuition. It isn’t something you can teach, per se, but following your gut and planning ahead is often what leads you down the right path. David Ogilvy once said, “All our finest thoughts and best ideas are not the work of the logical mind, but gifts from the unconscious.” So how does this resonate in PR today? Read everything. In order to know when something is an opportunity and when it’s a risk, you need to always have your finger on the pulse of what matters not only to you personally, but also to your clients’ business. Avoid working in a vacuum—just because you work on a healthcare account doesn’t mean that you should only pay attention to medical industry trades or media coverage from beat reporters. By doing so, you miss the bigger picture—a surround-sound approach to what’s happening in the world adds value. On that note, getting clients to believe in an instinct can be tricky. You need to make them confident that your judgment is sound—provide research, and more importantly the “A-ha moment” insight—to support your recommendations.
Soft-influence: Power of persuasion
While everyone has an agenda (see tip #1 on keeping it in check) there is a way of getting what you want without explicitly stating your intentions. Whether you’re pitching a reporter, making a compelling case for a proposed spokesperson, or providing constructive feedback to peers or direct reports, using soft-influence is almost always the most effective strategy. So how do you do that? We live in a “What’s in it for me?” society. A few strategies to consider incorporating to boost your powers of subtle persuasion:
- Know what motivates and avoid pushing buttons: Some people like real-time, continuous feedback, while others feel micromanaged without room or time to improve and grow. Everyone is different so having an honest conversation at the start of any professional relationship—or at an impasse—helps skirt or mitigate potential conflicts. On that note, know how people react in times of stress. For instance, if you know your client will be upset if they learn of an issue, such as a dissolved media exclusive, move quickly to find another solution. The key here though is to articulate the change in plans in a way that highlights the silver lining (more time to plan, etc).
- Flip the situation on its head: Rather than sending an email that says, “I need X, Y, and Z by EOD” try setting the stage on how a request helps the person by framing it positively: “In order to highlight the great work you’ve done recently, can you please send me a report detailing your recent media hits dating back six months? I want to share with others and save for future reference.” Most people will be much more receptive once they understand how the request benefits them.
- Bring solutions: This tip goes two ways: If you ask someone for advice, do your best to think of potential solutions in advance of your conversation to demonstrate proactive troubleshooting skills. On the flip side, if someone comes to you seeking guidance without a clue where to start, help him or her get to the root of the problem. For instance, if someone is continuously missing deadlines, ask what they perceive to be the barrier (you may have your own suspicions, but referring back to tip #1, hear the situation from their perspective first). Prioritizing and delegating responsibilities is most often the best solution in this hypothetical instance: Tapping others not only will alleviate the stressed employee’s workload, but it could also provide opportunities for others to learn new skills in the process. Ultimately, there is no shame in asking for help. And yes, I get by with a little help from my friends, too.
Kate Cronin is the Managing Director of Ogilvy Public Relations NY and Global Managing Director of the Agency’s Healthcare Practice