8 Tips to Success in PR

8 Tips to Success in PR

These 8 tips to succeeding in PR are about more than writing well or liking to work with people—public relations is really all about selling. And it’s also about solving problems, understanding your clients’ businesses and many, many other things.


One of the reasons I opted to get a degree in public relations (and yes, it is a Bachelor of Science degree) is because I didn’t want to follow in my successful father’s footsteps.


He was a salesman (or as he liked to call himself, a peddler), and I wasn’t the least bit interested in sales as a career path. And, while I was getting that degree, nobody disillusioned me that I was starting a career in sales. That quickly changed.


In PR, Selling is Everything!


For better or worse, it didn’t take long after stepping into my first job to figure out that selling is just about everything in PR. I may not sell valves and regulators as my dad did, but I’m always peddling ideas, concepts and sometimes, even products. You can talk about convincing or persuading all you want, but trust me: when you accept that a job in PR is a job in sales, you’re going to move your career ahead much faster.


Selling is Solving Problems


My dad was a very successful salesman and eventually owned the company. He always gave some credit for that to a Dale Carnegie course he took when he moved from being an engineer to being a sales engineer. He said it taught him that selling was about satisfying people’s needs. When I asked him what the keys to success were, he said it boiled down to much more than just knowing your product better than anyone else.


He told me it doesn’t matter how great your product is. If it doesn’t solve your customers’ needs and let them sleep soundly at night after buying it, then you can’t sell it. He said his job was really understanding the needs of his customers and finding ways to satisfy them.


Great PR Requires Understanding Your Clients


Dad and I talked a lot about this. As a salesman, in addition to solving problems for his clients, it was also his job to understand his customers’ different plants and processes at least as well as they did. Beyond that, he had to know what  constituted a win for each of them. He had to make sure that all the links in the chain on his side of a transaction were in place to deliver not just the product, but winning experiences for his customers.


You need to study and understand the space your customers live and breathe in. Who do they compete with for support within their organization? If you’re a consultant, you need to do that analysis for each and every client. You can’t give good advice or create winning scenarios if you don’t understand the competition in every area. And no, you don’t need an MBA to get a grasp on the competitive environment. Here are some great tips on how to collect this information.


A Career in PR is a Career in Sales


If you’re going to be successful in PR, you need to create winning experiences for your customers. You have to figure out what they and their organization need. You also need to understand what they’re really looking for—and how to deliver it. In between, you need to know what everyone in the delivery chain needs—reporters, bloggers and thought leaders, to name a few—to help you get the win for your client.


Money Makes the World Go ‘Round


When you opt for a career in PR, you also have to understand what makes every organization run is money. I think everyone in business (not only PR pros) should know how to read income and cash flow statements and understand a balance sheet. If you don’t, read a book or take a basic accounting class. Money is what matters even for charitable organizations and the bottom line is what most executives really care about. You should, too.


Whether you’re an employee or a consultant, you should know the financial condition of the organizations you work for and with. Yes, I know that is math and numbers. Get over it. You can’t avoid it. I don’t understand algebra to this day, but I can pretty reliably tell you if an organization is winning or losing based on those three financial documents. That’s how the people who matter most keep score, and so should you.


PR is Also Psychology


There is also a bit of psychology necessary when you’re a PR professional. If you’re smart, you’ll learn about basic human motivations and apply them to the organizations you work with. Observe what motivates them and how others respond. Bottom line—if you don’t know what keeps the people important to the organization up at night, you can’t really sell them anything. People buy or support something based on how they think that choice will make them feel about themselves. You have to make them feel good about choosing you.


Lawyers Are Your Friends


Some of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made or advised my clients to make were the result of understanding legal issues and preventing problems from happening as a result. When you’re offering PR advice to clients, make sure you have some understanding of the legal issues that can come into play in terms of what could come back to bite you or the organizations you work with. Make friends with the attorneys. Ask smart questions. Lawyers will respect you if you respect them and their function. And, trust me. It’s a good idea to know the legal team before you find yourself in a fast-moving crisis situation. That’s why I always ask for a briefing from the legal department when starting a new assignment. It’s just good business.


Respect the Reporters


Lastly, if you’re going to be in PR, it’s critical you understand and respect reporters and others who can influence the outcome of an assignment. They’re not there to serve your purpose. They have their own jobs that are tough enough. Know why your message is important to them and the people they serve. And tell them that. Don’t beat around the bush and dance around words. Shoot straight with them and respect their time, brainpower and obligations and they’ll typically do the same for you.


There you have my tips for success in PR. These are just some basics you need to know. Success in public relations is so much more than a good writer. Knowing how to create and execute a great campaign is entry level for this business.


I’ve said it before. Being a successful PR person means being one of the best-informed and most curious people in the room. You have to show a willingness to learn, an ability to listen and an understanding that PR is really all about selling something to someone.


What do you think? What would you add to this list?



  • Corina Manea

    Hi Rick,

    Great post! You´ve summarized all a PR person is or should be in few words.

    Best regards,

    August 25, 2012 at 4:05 am
    • Thanks, Corina. Glad you enjoyed it. Let’s hope it gets some people thinking.

      August 25, 2012 at 8:38 am
  • Loved. Great post for new-comers and pros alike. Especially like your points in “Money makes the world go ’round”. Too many PR folks avoid those numbers. Embrace ’em. It pays.

    August 25, 2012 at 9:14 am
    • Thanks, Lisa.

      I’m always amazed how people think they can avoid learning about business or dealing with dollars in this business. The world just doesn’t work that way.

      August 25, 2012 at 9:39 am
  • allenmireles

    Rick, this is a wonderful and thoughtful summary of what it means to be a successful PR person.Many of the tips you cite could also be applied to other professions since they are represent the foundations of being a good and successful business person.

    I would add to your list that in today’s fast paced environment you need to take that curiosity and apply it to staying abreast of the changing technology that impacts your field. Life is speeding up, things are changing and evolving quickly and it’s really valuable to be conversant in technology (but then I am a geek-wannabe so perhaps I’m biased in that direction.
    Well done, my friend. Toddling off to share this post with my networks. 🙂

    August 25, 2012 at 10:21 am
    • Thanks, Allen. 

      That is a great number 9 for the list. I see too many of the people I used to work with who leave the ‘new’ stuff to the ‘young’ people. Or, when they do venture in they want to use it the old way. 

      August 25, 2012 at 10:36 am
  • Niki Woodard

    Thanks, Rick. As much as you expose the “selling” part of PR (good reminder for me, as someone who’s relatively new to the world of PR consulting and admittedly cringes a bit at the word “sales”), but also really neat to see you fan out the breadth of skills that a good PR person should be carrying. Hope all’s going great with you!

    -Niki W

    August 25, 2012 at 10:02 pm
    • Hi Niki.

      Thanks for dropping by.

      I used to cringe at the word sell too but good sales people are excellent examples of being problem solvers for their customers. That’s what we do all the time. 

      August 26, 2012 at 5:29 pm
  • Jessica

    Great tips, this article is so great!


    December 2, 2015 at 1:53 am