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Lessons from Living Legends

Posted At: November 9, 2010 2:44 AM
by Karissa Bursch and Meredith Julian

What constitutes a living legend? Recently a panel session at the PRSSA National Convention in Washington, D.C., featured four professionals chosen as living legends in the public relations field. During the panel discussion, they provided advice for future professionals on how to reach legendary status.

According to the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, these professionals are considered “four of PR’s most highly regarded professionals” in addition to being “honored leaders and authors.”

Dr. Karla Gower, moderator of the panel and director of the Plank Center, said the event was a unique chance for PR students.

“[The Living Legends Panel] was a great opportunity for students to hear from people at the top of their game . . . people who have seen a lot of things and are well-respected,” Gower said.

E. Bruce Harrison, CEO, Envirocomm International, Washington, D.C. 
Harrison is one of PRWeek ’s “100 Most Influential PR People of the 20th Century” and served as director of a PR firm for 25 years. Harrison stressed the importance of continual learning and creating a constant dialogue between the client, the audience and the PR professional.

-Remember the four L’s: Listen, Learn, Leverage, Lead. PR is a sustainable profession; you can never stop learning.

-Get into the market. Life is about deals; for example, tell a company “I’ll work 90 days for free; then hire me or pay me.”

-Don’t just listen, you need a dialogue, too. Ask questions.

-Remember the magic question: “I have a problem; I wonder if you could help me?”

-Keep a record; jot down client ideas on 3 × 5 cards when you ask questions.

-Create stakeholders in your success. Ask yourself: “Who has a stake in my idea, in my client, etc.?”

-Think outside of social media. What other tools are beneficial?

-Know how to write and spell. Read books.

-Detect risks before they become crises. PR is all about solving problems and finding the root of these problems.

Michael L. Herman, CEO of Communication Sciences
Herman is an internationally recognized speaker and author of more than 50 publications. He also served as CEO and chairman of several national and international PR firms. Herman was adamant about maintaining balance between a professional and personal life.

-Find your passion and use it. This will be the most meaningful part of your career.

-Build meaningful relationships. Start with your professors and classmates and continue to maintain these after graduating.

-Value people, use things. Not the opposite.

-Know when to shut up. Learn active listening. You must leave space for people to tell you what they think.

-Make your audience listen instead of sleep. Take a speech course and practice as much as you can. Learn to speak clearly and with emphasis.

-Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. “Good judgment is the result of experience, which is usually the result of bad judgment.”

-Focus on who you are. “Your profession is what you do, your life is what you live.”

Isobel Parke, APR, Senior Counsel, Jackson, Jackson & Wagner
Parke is the 2002 recipient of the Ferguson Award for services to public relations education. She also serves as the national secretary for PRSA and as a board liaison for PRSSA. Parke focused on the personal process of building a career, but cautioned students against taking it too seriously.

-Know the world outside of work. You will be a better professional if you focus on discovering your passions, not just your job.

-Get to know your opponents. They are people, too.

-Find the worth in every job. Basic PR lessons can be learned everywhere.

-Know how to manage change. Never use “ought” or “should”; instead use “enlightened” and “self-interest.”

-Understand the financial underpinnings of organizations. Talk to lawyers. Find out what these departments know and what they need.

Rhoda Weiss, Ph.D., APR, International Consultant, Speaker and Author
Weiss serves as CEO and president of the American Hospital Association’sSociety for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development. She is also a recipient of the PRSA Health Academy Lifetime Achievement Award. Weiss stressed the importance of getting out of your comfort zone to become a better leader.

-Communicate with everybody. Get involved in your community by working with the Chamber of Commerce or a nonprofit.

-Get an internship or volunteer in your free time. If you don’t have time, make time.

-Broaden your horizons. Take classes in your areas of weakness. Talk to strangers.

-Have career insurance. Save 10 percent of what you earn each week for professional development.

-Develop and use the mind of a CEO. Learn to deal with internal and external stakeholders.

-Be the ethical conscience of your organization.

-In response to crises, remember the four F’s: be first, be fast, be forthcoming, be forgiving. Always apologize.

Perspectives from the panel moderator
When asked to give her own advice, Gower emphasized the importance of learning to trust your own instincts.

“One of the hardest obstacles I have had to overcome is trusting my own judgment,” Gower said. “Do not be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and take risks. When you do those things you begin to trust your judgment.”

Gower also said students should not be afraid to make mistakes, but when they do, they should admit to them.

Like the living legends with whom she spoke at the convention, Gower thinks students should realize the importance of building strong relationships and continuing their education. She suggests higher education.

“Get a graduate degree. Not necessarily in public relations,” Gower said. “Either way, get involved in the community and get experience.”

Reflecting on her long career, Gower again stressed being true to yourself and sticking by your principles.

“Maybe that’s why I didn’t do well practicing law,” Gower said. “I was too willing to give into other people instead of saying that it wasn’t right for me or for my organization. You have to know yourself and your limits so you can say no.”

As Gower said, you don’t have to be liked all the time.

Regardless of their individual opinions, living legends use their experiences to enhance the leadership of their organizations. As a result, these opinions are widely respected across the public relations field.

How can you apply this advice to your professional career? Have you used any of these tips in the past?

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