Every leader, entrepreneur or business owner needs to communicate their vision to stakeholders.
If that vision or message is complex or the contextual environment is noisy, it's a good idea to hire a PR adviser to help get the message out.
The table stakes for a good PR practitioner are pretty standard: deep media relationships are a plus; experience working in a newsroom is helpful; strong writing skills are mandatory; managing and developing a team that is solid; event management is good; social media savvy is a requirement.
Good PR personnel need to have each of those boxes checked, but there are four additional skills that separate great PR professionals from good ones.
1. Speaking truth to power.
Most people are intimidated by power and tend to fear those individuals who are higher on the organizational hierarchy. Surprisingly, that fact holds true even for people who already hold positions of influence and power, such as corporate VPs or senior VPs. They are often intimidated by higher-ups.
On more than one occasion I've witnessed every direct report of a CEO refuse to share with the leader some kind of bad news because they were afraid the top executive would figuratively "kill the messenger."
The best PR folks need to be fearless in those meetings, willing to deliver the bad news as well as a positive strategy to respond or overcome the stated challenge.
2. Ability to compartmentalize issues.
This is much tougher to achieve than it seems. Every organization faces some type of crisis at some time or another. The challenge occurs when multiple crises occur and begin to overlap each other.
Some issues, such as civil lawsuits or regulatory investigations, become protracted and extend over years like a smoldering fire you can't extinguish. Other issues, such as a data breach, flare up to intense heat instantly like a grease fire. They seem to go dormant, only to flare up later when least expected.
These critical situations require messaging and affected audiences to be effectively managed. The best PR advisors can "strategically ignore" those important issues when the immediate urgency of the crisis subsides. The issues are still there, but the expert communicators are able to still operate at peak performance and deliver day-to-day results, despite the slow or hot burn of an unyielding crisis event.
3. See around corners.
When it comes to media relations, this particular skill takes years to develop. The best PR advisers in this regard tend to be former journalists, editors or producers.
While it's tricky to predict the exact trajectory a story will take prior to its publication or broadcast, the most effective PR counselors have a very strong idea based on the type of questions asked, the manner and tone in which those questions were presented, other "news makers" the reporter interviewed to round out the story, as well as a good understanding into how the journalist has covered the topic in the past.
Those insights equip the adviser to appropriately establish the expectations of the leadership team to help prepare for the story's tone, message, impact and relevance. That all helps the internal team develop a ready response if needed.
4. Powerful persuader.
Leaders and entrepreneurs crave control, but one of the things they cannot control 100 percent is the type of media coverage they engender. Whenever a negative story appears about an organization or executive, their nearly-universal initial reaction is to issue a press release or letter to the editor refuting the "errors" of the article.
There is a time and place for that type of response, but it's rare.
The direct response from the company tends to land flat and typically emboldens hardcore reporters to continue squeezing for more of the story. I personally know a handful of investigative reporters from my journalism days who kept binders on their desks of those flaming corporate responses. The innately contrarian DNA of journalists tends to view authoritative blow back as evidence they're doing something right.
The best PR advisers are able to persuade the executive team from taking that course of action, or at least consider other options, such as enlisting a trusted third-party to respond on the organization's behalf.
If you're a leader or entrepreneur who wants the best thinking regarding reputation management and protecting your organization's brand, make sure you raise these areas with your top communications advisor to help determine if the individual is great or merely good.