Agencies as a foundation for entrepreneurs
In this guest post public relations agency founder Max Tatton-Brown makes the case that starting your career in an agency provides a solid foundation for an entrepreneur.
By Max Tatton-Brown
When someone says public relations skills, you may think: writing, pitching, creativity.
I say bullshit.
Nobody ever started their own agency because they could write a press release.
No marketer ever earned the ear of the CEO because of their campaign to float something down the Thames.
So, here are the skills that I think public relations gives its survivors, all of which I think are more valuable than ever for a successful career.
Intelligence. With a big I
The art of being attuned to what’s happening next, threading the small moments into the bigger patterns, while keeping your eye on the human aspects that never change.
The difference between intelligence and awareness is action. Public relations educates you to not only identify those patterns, but to always have the other eye on the opportunity they represent.
The more opportunities you take a shot at, the more practice you get, the quickly you become someone who gets results.
A life working in public relations means balancing your responsibility to audiences and clients, while explaining why your actions are helping them.
Bad practitioners, and often publicists, misinterpret this as manipulation. But I think in doing so, they oversell both their power and the inherent appeal.
A hard sell or Machiavellian plan is both more difficult, and likely to sabotage your reputation in the long run, than finding situations where all sides genuinely benefit.
It also forgoes the opportunity to learn the skill of finding mutually beneficial outcomes - which is a benefit of good salesman and customers alike.
After a lifetime of sparring with combative and demanding media, practitioners were ready and waiting when the dawn of social meant brands needed someone to communicate directly with the public too.
A lifetime of having to earn the attention of audiences and readers taught us to secure opportunities through quality instead of cash.
The ultimate influence is using relationships and mutual goals to orchestrate outcomes you believe in.
This is the area where agencies give most with one hand and take away with the other.
The awareness of time is fundamental to anyone who had to grow up with timesheets. And yet, agencies mostly try and use any efficiency you gain to saddle you with more work.
The effect of this (on those who survive) is a conditioning to be ready for anything, ruthless prioritisation and powerful systems to cope.
Once you leave a poor agency system (think email, MS Office, maybe a Slack that only adds to the noise), and are exposed to new tools like Asana or methods like Getting Things Done, the result can be truly inhuman efficiency.
And once you can drive your own goals and ambitions, you can use that efficiency to achieve remarkable things.
Trust the technique
Make these strategic benefits the basis for how you judge your progress within public relations because they are the most transferable skills that will serve you in your life after it.
If you are working at an agency where these aren’t the focus, it’s time to rethink if it’s the best fit for you. The best work comes when you follow your instinct and natural strength, and it happens to align with the organisation’s culture.
That’s what gives your career a continuity that will guide you to the right colleagues and clients.
Alternatively, pursue side projects that will help you exercise these skills and reach those who are looking for you.
Intelligence is something you can hone every day - download Feedly and subscribe to the smartest RSS feeds and newsletters.
Influence is about entering every transaction with your first thought on “what’s in it for them”?
Efficiency is about being aware of the tasks you do every day and making a dedicated window somewhere in your week to reconsider and refine them. Read (or skim summaries of) Getting Things Done, the Lean Startup, Flow.
Stamina: keep going
And some of these skills just take time. If you consider each layer of the public relations hierarchy may take you two to three years, then this is your game for the next six to nine.
But that’s nothing. If you think how far away retirement is, this is maybe just a first third of your working life.
As a result, one of the biggest things I’ve learned is a kind of impatient patience. Work hard every day to keep moving forward on the skills that matter to you, but expect to see the results over years, not months.
And most of all, find the people you want to learn from and don’t work for or with anyone else. You become a mix of the individuals you spend the most time around.
Choose them wisely.
About Max Tatton-Brown
Max founded Augur to reengineer public relations and communications for technology companies such as GoCardless, Pusher, Tradeshift and Unbabel.