It’s that time of year again and plenty of PR folk have laid out their resolutions for 2014 including Stuart Bruce, Matthew Schwartz, Adrienne Erin, Carm Lyman and CHA Group.
I’ve made a few resolutions myself: lose weight (ahem, I make this resolution every year but one year I’ll crack it, right?), write and publish two more books, and network with more PRs and academics. It’s not a long list, but each of those things are pretty hefty goals and I work best when I have something to aim for.
If you’re still pondering your resolutions for this year you might want to consider making them career-oriented. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Make use of your appraisal
Most large companies, and plenty of smaller ones, hold yearly appraisals for their employees. Most of the time they’re a pain in the backside because it involves filling in a long form and finding ways of bragging about your achievements without actually bragging, and highlighting things you need to work on without seeming completely incompetent. Sound familiar? No one likes filling in those forms. No one. However, everyone likes reading what other people wrote about them – even if it’s not complimentary. We are hard wired to want feedback and as lovely as it is for your colleagues and boss to tell you you’re brilliant, it doesn’t help much in terms of improving and getting better at what you do. We all want to get better at what we do, don’t we? Most people don’t make the most of their appraisals. They fill in the forms about themselves, their staff and their colleagues (and their boss if it’s on of those fancy 360 reviews in which you are asked to point out your bosses faults and then hope they don’t fire you). They read the feedback and have a chat about it with their manager. They may even set some goals and targets for the year and then the appraisal goes in a drawer and is never looked at again until they have to write the next one in twelve months time. Don’t tell me you’ve never done that – I have. It is a huge waste of everyone’s time if you do that so don’t. Take that appraisal out of your drawer once a month and make notes on it. What have you achieved in the last month? What have you sucked at? Make a point of noting any new business wins you’ve been involved in and any particularly brilliant projects you’ve managed. Did you get a hugely impressive piece of coverage for a client? You will forget a lot of this stuff by the time you have to fill in your next appraisal form so if you get into the habit of noting it down each month it will make your life so much easier when you have to do the next one. Reading your last appraisal regularly should also sharpen your focus so that you achieve the goals you and your manager set for you in the last one. Don’t waste the opportunity to get better.
Invest in professional development
PR is an ever-changing industry with new and innovative approaches to the way it is practiced evolving all the time. If you want to be considered an expert at what you do, you need to invest in your professional development and that means training. Both the CIPR and PRCA offer great training courses. Previous Taylor Bennett Foundation trainees have benefited from training from both industry bodies and the feedback is always really, really good – they love it and they find the sessions incredibly helpful. If you’ve had an appraisal you should have a good idea of any areas you’re weaker in so seek out some training courses that might address those – if you’re lucky, your firm might stump up the cash for them. If not, you should still seriously consider paying for a course.
This is one of my personal goals for this year. I want to write two more books, one of which will be PR related and one is a novel which I started a long time ago and have finally decided to finish. I also plan to blog a bit more often so you can expect more regular posts here. If you’re working in PR the chances are that you do a fair bit of writing and the only way to get better at it is to do more of it. Now here’s the great news, you can write anything and it will improve your writing. In other words – you can write for fun! If you don’t have a blog, why the hell not? Even if no one ever reads it it is a brilliant way for you to hone your writing skills and to express your opinions. You might want to make it PR related and comment on industry issues. You might want to make it something completely unrelated to work and start a blog on sewing or cars or travel or cats or music or any of the millions of different subjects that might interest you. The point is that you should get in to the habit of writing regularly so that you flex that writing muscle. You might also like to volunteer to write for other people. Lots of charities would love someone to do some writing for their web pages so you could consider that. You could also just write a lot of reviews on Amazon or Trip Advisor and build your word count that way. By the way, lots of Amazon reviewers get given stuff for free just so that they will review it – FREE STUFF!
You should never stop reading. See that little widget over on the right hand side of the page with all the books whizzing through it? Those are the PR books I recommend you start with. I always have at least one industry book on the go. I also read a lot about self-publishing because I’m still relatively new at it and so want to learn from others. I read for fun (crime thrillers and historical fiction mostly) and I read to be informed (newspapers, magazines, websites, social media sites). Reading will improve your knowledge but it will also improve your writing. You’ll increase your vocabulary and will start to understand how different mediums require different tones. This blog is quite conversational and chatty, as is my book, but if I were writing an annual report for a FTSE 100 company then the tone would be much more formal (and a bit boring, but hey that’s what annual reports are).
I know you’re rolling your eyes right now. Everyone tells you to network, don’t they? What about if you hate standing around in a room of people you’ve never met before and marching up to them to introduce yourself is your idea of hell? You’re going to have to get over it I’m afraid. There are lots of brilliant ways to network without having to physically be somewhere – Twitter is great for that. In the past week I’ve been invited to speak to a group of American students (via Skype) by a US PR professor because we talked on Twitter. It’s pretty cool that I can make those kinds of connections without setting foot on US soil. I also use LinkedIn for professional networking and I have a Facebook fan page which is related to my writing (my personal page is not for public consumption – very, very few work colleagues or PR acquaintances make it to friend status on there, but there are an honoured few so if you’re one of them you can consider yourself special). I love online networking, it’s free, it’s usually instant and people are generally very friendly. That last point – the bit about friendly people – is an interesting one because although it may come as a surprise to you, the vast majority of people are very approachable and most will go out of their way to help other people if they can. I wrote to a lot of PR practitioners and academics to ask for quotes for How To Get A Job In PR and only two actively said no – one because his firm wouldn’t allow it, and one because he had a ridiculously busy work schedule and wouldn’t have the time, which is fair enough. A few ignored the email completely but even counting those the vast majority of people said they would help – and asked for absolutely nothing in return (I gave them a copy of the ebook as thanks for their time, but they didn’t know they were going to get that). They were lovely, and helpful and kind and despite the horrible things you read about happening in the world I really believe that 95% of people are good. This is not just restricted to online relationships so it’s possible to march up to someone at an industry event and introduce yourself and for them to smile and talk to you. Honestly, it happens! Once you’ve got over the fear of doing it a few times you might even enjoy it.