Life Lessons From Mom That Also Apply to a Career in PR

For some of us, “All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” still rings true. Play nice, share with others, don’t interrupt, work hard; the list goes on.

For me, a lot of the advice I call upon in my adult life revolves around what my parents taught me. I use their advice in parenting, how I treat my loved ones – both family and friends – and everything in between. Much of their advice I even apply to my career as a PR executive. In honor of Mother’s Day, I wanted to share my thoughts, and those of my teammates, on how Mom’s early lessons stick with us and still help us in our careers today.

momWhen I was young, I struggled with math. Words always came much easier to me. As the daughter of two parents who worked for a national newspaper, you could say it was in the blood. How could I get through this math monkey on my back and change my perspective? My mother taught me that we all have to do things we don’t want to do. We all have to tackle the hard things. Part of life is this yin and yang of easy and hard. So with the assistance of kind teachers, patient parents, and most importantly a change in me, I switched my thinking and began to use the mantra, “I will not give up.” I heeded my mother’s tough advice. She didn’t have a ton of sympathy, but rather told me over and over, “Keep at it, be tough, and do not give up.”

I am no longer tackling Pi or the Pythagorean Theorem, or cringing after being called up to write on the blackboard in math class  - but each day as a PR professional, I am still faced with challenges that call for mental toughness and confidence. This is when the parts of my job that are harder and grittier than others call for my mom’s good old “don’t give up” mantra. This mantra makes for happy clients, solid journalistic relationships and a constant quest for me to deliver top results while striving to do better.

My PerkettPR colleagues shared what they’ve learned from their mothers as well. Here’s a collection of the awesome advice that they still carry with them in their PR careers.

From Christine Perkett

My mother taught me not to undervalue myself – which comes in handy when negotiating as both employer and vendor. My grandmother taught me that men are like street cars — a new one will always come along. I say the same is true clients – not that I don’t appreciate the ones we have (I so do!), but that they come and go and that losing one is not the end of the world.

 From Susan Sweenie:

My mom taught me that even when dealing with someone tough or not interested, just kill them with kindness. 

From Crystal Monahan:

I’ve had the privilege of having two moms in my life – my actual mom and my stepmother. Although different in innumerable ways, they both share one admirable trait that I have tried to emulate in my life and career. They both possess a remarkable work ethic. They work dawn to dusk if necessary. They have held multiple jobs to provide for their families. Nothing is beneath them – if it needs to get done, they do it. They both understand that nothing in life comes free and great pride comes from a job well done.

I’ve always tried to do my best and work my hardest, and have always appreciated the sense of accomplishment at seeing the results of my efforts whether it’s completing monthly status reports on time, writing a solid press release, or seeing my clients in the media.

Whenever I’m feeling lazy, I think about my two moms and I know they’ve probably already accomplished more in a day than many people do in a week, and I’m inspired to get back to work.

From Susie Dougherty:

“Mind your manners…” Something my mom was a stickler about, much to my benefit. I think most of us (well, maybe not as many as I’d like to think) grow up to be mindful of the simple words and gestures that help make us respected adults. But with today’s email and social media – suddenly a lot of those manners have gone out the window. Thanks to my mom for somehow making those words stick –even as the Internet has fundamentally changed in so many ways how we communicate. I’m still using my manners behind my laptop or iPhone or tablet screen – and I know that stands out to clients, reporters and even my own colleagues.”

From Jennifer Hellickson:

My mom’s a big proponent of the Golden Rule – treat others as you’d like to be treated – and this goes a long way in PR. Going that extra mile for both our clients and our colleagues in the media means trying to not only think from their perspective, but also anticipate their needs, as well. This creates a better working environment for everyone and ultimately allows us, as PR professionals, to better serve the company’s mission.

From Heather Bliss :

Mom taught me so many amazing lessons, but one of the most valuable was to be a good listener and problem solver. She has an uncanny ability to be able to listen to ANYONE, and I mean anyone. Whether it’s a family member, friend, colleague or a stranger on the park bench next to her — if they have a problem my mom has the time and patience to listen and to try and help solve it. I learned how to translate some small part of this gift of hers to my work in PR to really listen to clients and understand the issues they face and try to problem solve solutions as my mother would with quickness and calm.

And, fellow PerkettPR staff member (and new mom herself) agrees:

Johanna Lucia adds:

My Mom always taught me the importance of being a good listener. She helped instill this very powerful life skill in me, and when it comes to PR– we need to hear our clients. Listening to our clients’ wants and needs is a vital part of our role and in helping develop effective PR strategies.

What inspirational mom lessons can you share with us? Do you have a favorite piece of advice learned in childhood that still remains a part of your work habit today? Please share your stories in the comments.

The Art of Listening in Client Service

At the risk of stereotyping myself, and my peers, it seems to me that most PR personalities are talkers, spinners and strategists, but rarely are they quiet listeners or observers. This observation is based on my own experience in PR over the last decade or so. I also speak from that rare position of listener.

Yep, I’m a listener. One of the ‘quiet ones,’ I buck the PR stereotype. I’m an introvert; shy to the point of pain in my youth; and though I have gotten over the pain part, I can still think of 100 things I would rather do than interject myself into a conversation with someone I just met.

Not surprisingly, this has caused some angst for me from a professional standpoint. In the client service business, we must prove ourselves every day – to our clients, colleagues and managers. In PR, this often takes the form of strategic counsel and creative ideas shared verbally in a meeting or via a conference call.

Fortunately, I’ve had some excellent guidance and support here at PerkettPR and have overcome most of my fears about voicing my ideas. Despite these strides, I still believe wholeheartedly that my ability to listen has benefited my teams, my clients, and me in countless ways – perhaps in more important ways than my verbal observations ever will.

Good customer service begins with listening

I’ve heard time and again, “if they don’t hear from you, they don’t know you’re engaged.” I’d argue that good client service is as much about listening as it is about presenting, counseling and verbalizing ideas. Listening is another form of engagement.

I’m surely not the only one who’s come across a verbose PR pro who doesn’t know when to be quiet. You know, the one that cuts you off, interrupts the client, pretends to listen, but then continues talking up his or her idea. Sure, they can talk about their ideas and offer advice on the fly, but it’s the listeners who actually hear and understand what the client really wants. Everyone wants to be heard, especially if they’re paying someone to listen.

We cannot provide excellent counsel without first listening and understanding what our clients have to say. Listening goes far beyond remaining silent while someone else speaks. Listening is about paying attention to the nuances of the conversation, recognizing what isn’t being said, and then applying what you’ve heard to the matter at hand.

Social Media – talking or listening?

As our business – and the world around us – evolves, listening is becoming more important than ever. With Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Whrrl and countless other social networks encouraging brief status updates, we’re overrun with one-way conversations. It seems everyone has something to say, but is anybody listening?

Christine Perkett has spoken about the importance of listening as part of the social conversation for some time. In a 2009 blog post, she commented, “One of the most effective ways to connect with any audience is to show them that you care. One of the easiest ways to show someone that you care is to listen.” This still holds true today, with even more noise entering the market daily.

More recently Gartner’s Michael Maoz shared his thoughts on the lost art of listening. He notes that many of his clients who are introducing social capabilities to their businesses are reaping big points from their customers by simply demonstrating their willingness to listen. Brands that are most successful with social media are those that understand it is a two-way dialogue, and an opportunity to listen to their customers – just on a broader scale.

Listen up

Granted, in the day-to-day life of your average PR professional, social listening is only part of the job. Our clients look to us for ideas, strategy and counsel delivered verbally or otherwise. And we’ll provide it (even those of us that are more natural listeners, than talkers ;-)) but, first, we’ll ensure we’ve taken the time to listen to their needs and concerns carefully, and offer thoughtful advice that helps them to reach their business goals – not just a knee jerk reaction or response.

What are your thoughts on the art of listening? Are we in danger of losing this crucial skill? How do you ensure you’re really listening to your customers? We’d love to HEAR from you in the comments.

Persuasive Picks for the week of 08/16/09

LInkedIn GroupsHow To Use LinkedIn Groups To Drive Website Traffic
Jason Yormark shares five tips to help drive traffic to your blog using LinkedIn Groups.

Corporate Twitter Toolbox: Twitter Tools for the Enterprise
Sudha Jamthe lists off the top market-leading Twitter tools to manage social media engagement with your customers.

The Five Ws of Social Media Listening
Chuck Hemann guest posts on the SocialMediaExplorer blog and shares his take on the who, what, when, where and why of social media listening.

Six steps to controlling brand buzz on review sites
Neal Leavitt asked a number of industry experts, analysts, and agency heads about their online brand monitoring experiences and how they handle criticism and negative buzz. Their perspectives are revealed in this post.

Online communities are most authentic
Chris Abraham reminds us that online (virtual) communities are filled with real people – and why it’s important to take your involvement (and your brand’s involvement) seriously within such communities, in order to be most effective

Shut Up and Listen

I have had a lot of conversations about PR over the years with prospects, clients and partners. Some of my favorite stories are when they share their other PR experiences. In fact, inquiring about experiences with other agencies – both good and bad – is one of the first questions we ask any prospect. We can learn so much by the answer to just that one question.

More often than not, it seems that PR executives make the mistake of talking too much and listening too little. I noticed this from the very beginning of my career. I would slump in embarrassment during client meetings when two account executives would not only talk over each other – as though the one who talked the most demanded the most importance – but they would consistently interrupt the client as well. It’s something I have never forgotten.

One of the most effective ways to connect with any audience is to show them that you care. One of the easiest ways to show someone that you care is to listen. One of the best ways to listen is to actively participate in the conversation – by both asking questions and repeating what you’ve heard. It’s also a fantastic way to learn new things.

I see the same mistake happening in a lot of the social media marketing taking place across social networks. It’s bad enough that so many companies are using Twitter and Facebook as a glorified news stream rather than a give and take community, but the so-called social media experts and “social marketing gurus” are making matters worse by constantly streaming their own thoughts but rarely replying, conversing or engaging their followers – often because they consider themselves newbie-Internet celebrities and can’t be bothered. To make matters worse, these type of marketers and PR hounds are using the latest “auto follower” services – a pyramid-like scheme that can increase your followers “by up to 300 per day!” Again, this has nothing to do with engaging or listening and it certainly doesn’t mean that these “gurus” know how to get other people – the RIGHT people – to listen to you or your brand value proposition.

not-listening

I also see so many PR professionals who don’t want to ask questions in meetings because they feel – especially in a pitch – that they are supposed to have all the answers already. (Or, sometimes, their egos rival everyone’s in the room.) This is a classic problem with marketers and PR executives – they think asking questions shows weakness. I highly disagree – I think it shows interest, intelligence and strategic thinking.

If you’re not asking questions, you are subtly saying that you don’t care. How else will you learn about what your customers want? How do you ensure that you are headed in the right direction with your products or services? How will you uncover additional nuggets of information that might not seem obvious in a one-sided conversation?

The  next time you find yourself in a conversation or – better yet – a sales pitch – think about what questions you can ask about the person or company to whom you are speaking. Ask them questions about themselves or what they offer and get them talking about what they’re passionate about. Really listen to the answers. Repeat them and ask more. I guarantee that the other party will walk away thinking you were an extremely interesting person and brilliant conversationalist.