If someone told you that you’re “being political” or coming across as a real “politician,” you’d probably be offended. But I will argue that being politically savvy, i.e. having the ability to influence others to accomplish your goals, will serve you well in a career in PR.
The 10 most important political skills crucial to working in PR are the abilities to:
- Re-frame a situation — You won’t get far – unless your goal is to annoy the most people possible – without being able to see things from more than one perspective. In PR speak, this means being able to customize a message or story for specific individual audiences.
- Back up your story – Your story will be stronger and more convincing if you can back it up with evidence and proof points, such as customer testimonials, facts and statistics, research from opinion polls or surveys, third-party validation from awards, rankings or expert endorsements, etc.
- Convince your audience that you are credible – It’s not enough to have a great story if no one will listen to you tell it. Experienced spokespeople have titled credentials like speaker, author, successful entrepreneur or businessperson, but inexperienced spokespeople can demonstrate their authority by creating their own video examples, articulating new approaches and building followers online.
- Stay prepared – No, you don’t have to be paranoid and constantly prepping for a crisis (though that can be useful too), but savvy PR pros need to understand their industry, the players, what’s going on and what macro events can impact industry dynamics.
- Know your opponent – Whether your PR career is centered on working with causes, people or products, it’s important to understand the competitive landscape and what sets your work apart.
- Build a strong network – Strong PR professionals have good, up-to-date working networks of people to call, including the media, with whom they can work with to get things done and communicate messages.
- Manage people – Each day, PR staff interact with people at many levels, from their own bosses and the teams they supervise to the people at multiple levels within their client organizations and also those working in various ways in the media and other external audiences. Good managers are able to communicate effectively with all levels in an organization, and give the right message/tone to the right audience at the right time.
- Appear sincere – Someone with really strong political skills won’t appear to have any such skills at all. Character traits like being genuine, authentic, straightforward and effective are all associated with being politically savvy and leaders who are not politically skilled come off as manipulative or self-serving.
- “Practice influence” – I didn’t invent this phrase, but I like it. It means showing good judgment about when to assert yourself. For example, while you may be powerful within some groups and could easily throw your weight around to get what you want, that isn’t always the politically expedient way to go.
- Create change – Many of us get by in PR by being great at executing the first nine of these skills, but the most expert among us understand how to create effective PR programs that “move the dial” to achieve desired changes in audience behaviors.
Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on LindsayOlson.com. You can find her at www.kprcommunications.com. Learn more about Alison Kenney.