Published on March 21, 2018, at 3:04 p.m.
by Maret Montanari.
Public relations takes on different definitions depending on who you ask, but no matter the definition, it boils down to relationships. Regardless of what title follows your name or how innovative you are, creating meaningful connections with those around you is the most important part of your job description. From clients to co-workers, the relationships we foster are what make us standout professionals in the industry.
My freshman year of college, I was told by an industry professional to never answer the question of “Why did you choose public relations?” with “I’m a people person.” Apparently, this answer is taboo and would leave you standing on the front doorstep rather than inside the office. Essentially, the professional expressed the field wasn’t about relations. Instead, it was solely about the client.
During the past three years, I realized the industry is much more than that. It is not just about the client but about the complete public relations environment. We are challenged day in and day out to find new ways of meeting client and company expectations. The bottom line of being successful in this environment is building relationships — with your supervisor, your client and your co-workers. Relationships are needed at all organizational levels, and without them, we can’t expect to be successful in the industry.
… my boss.
Over 80 strangers greeted me as a new member of Capstone Agency, The University of Alabama’s student-run communications firm. Picture an eager-to-learn freshman who viewed AP style and press releases as foreign concepts. I was entering uncharted territory and felt like a big neon sign flashing “newbie” hung above my head. Refusing to let self-doubt invade my head, I reached out to my department directors for guidance on my role with the agency’s rebrand.
By the end of the semester, not only could I write a legitimate press release without using Google as a crutch, but I developed a “workship” with my directors. They transformed into my advocates and mentors as I navigated my first semester in the agency. The relationships supported my promotion to the account services department and opened the doors for growth.
… my client.
With my promotion, I moved to a more structured leadership position of account executive. I went from a general team member to managing 14 team members for The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. My role and responsibilities greatly changed, and my relationships did as well.
I served as the key liaison between the client and my team. If a deadline wasn’t met, I was the one to answer. If a crisis occurred, I was the one to act. I went from contributing to a client’s success to cultivating it. I learned how to manage a team, conduct myself professionally in client meetings and transform the client’s requests into deliverables.
None of this would have been possible without building a relationship with my client. By understanding The Plank Center inside and out and meeting weekly with the client, I better identified opportunities for our team to advance its mission.
… my co-workers.
I then advanced to firm director of the agency and now oversee all agency operations, seven departments, nine accounts and 135 members. This job can’t be done by one person, though. I quickly realized I needed to utilize the 18 department directors to motivate our members, maintain good relations with clients and continue to propel our agency forward.
We hold directors’ meetings weekly in which we discuss innovative ways to enhance our members’ experiences and increase collaboration among departments. Members report to their directors, who then report to me. Open lines of communication with all of the directors allow me to stay up to date on each department while still focusing on the agency’s strategy.
I can’t say the transition from managing one person (myself) to 14 people to 135 wasn’t challenging. I can say while each role changed, the need to establish relationships didn’t. If anything, the importance of relationships grew as a factor for success.
I chose to turn the strangers I met through Capstone Agency into my peers, my mentors and my friends over the past three years. This small decision has played an integral role in shaping the person I am and the professional I will be. By getting to know my bosses, clients and co-workers, I truly understand who they are, what was expected of me in each position and how I could achieve success through these relationships. Now, many of the people on the other side of the relationships are among my biggest advocates and mentors.
Take a look at the people around you, but don’t stop there. Think long and hard about how these people interact with you in your role. No matter your title, people will always play a fundamental part.
We all strive to improve the quality of our work and surpass expectations, but at the end of the day, the relationships we cultivate are a major factor in achieving success. It’s time to put the relations back in public relations.