Posted: March 16, 2015, 10:49 a.m.
by Kaitlin Goins.
Sitting in Dr. Meg Lamme’s advertising and public relations management graduate course a few weeks ago, you would have found 10 students staring intently at our professor as she quickly wrote words on the whiteboard during a brainstorm session. Were we interested? Yes. Were we contributing? Yes. Are those reasons why we were staring, some possibly twitching? No.
She drew a web on the board. Four of the items were circled; one was not. She finished drawing the web, and before she could put the cap back on the marker, one student asked (politely, of course), “Can you circle the top one?” We laughed and joked about the type-A personalities that permeated the room, which was filled with public relations students. What other personality would fill the room?
The stereotype: Public relations practitioners and students are crazed, type-A, obsessive compulsive people with lists _galore_. And, for some, that description seems to be true. For me, it is. I have my planner; my abbreviated, monthly planner; my calendar; my Google calendar; my reminders; my to-do lists; my checklists; my shopping lists; and the list goes on. Not only do I have my lists, calendars and planners, but they are also all color-coordinated. And then, I have sticky notes.
If you Google “PR personality,” you’ll find article after article listing characteristics of PR people. These lists reference “strong writing skills,” “sponges,” “open” and “flexible,” among other qualities. Perhaps these traits are common to all public relations practitioners and students, but most likely not. Rather, these are traits that dominate the classrooms and board rooms that public relations people fill because it is a demanding personality type.
Myers-Briggs says that PR-suited people are often the ENFJ (Extraverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging), INTJ(Introverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging) and INFJ (Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging) types. I took the Myers-Briggs test and received ENTJ (Extraverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging).
Ellen Pate, University of Alabama career consultant and coordinator of assessment, said the Myers-Briggs test is not necessarily the best tool as far as career assessment goes, however.
“If you are someone that is very introverted, [public relations] can be very draining,” Pate said. “But that doesn’t mean that someone with introversion as a preference cannot have PR as a job. It’s really just deciding what type of a PR and communication person you would be.”
According to the Myers-Briggs test, 16 different personalities exist. Pate said it’s not about what personality fits a certain career; rather, it’s about how you will approach that career. Pate gave the example that you might not be the one in front of everyone giving the speech, but that does not mean you did not write it. It is important to note that many introverts are in front of the scenes, but just after completing an extroverted task, they resign to their introversion in order to release whatever anxiety they may have. Pate said it is important to know your dominant personality because it may define what role in your career would be your strong-suit.
“You wear your blue-colored glasses and I wear purple, and we see the world completely different,” Pate said. “There’s 16 different ways of being normal. You can’t have everyone that thinks and acts the same. And for a company to thrive, you need that diversity. I would not encourage any personality to shy away from any career. You’re just going to do it differently.”
Lindsay Garrison, an Ogilvy Public Relations senior vice president, agreed with Pate and said there is not a perfect Myers-Briggs personality.
“Generally speaking, the PR world is rife with intelligent, creative, outgoing personalities,” Garrison said. “There are plenty of introverts — myself included, it turns out — who excel in PR. The best ideas come from insights, and insights don’t discriminate by personality type!”
Garrison said she could not remember her entire personality from the Myers-Briggs test, but she recalls introversion.
“It was a total shock to me!” Garrison said.
Even within the agency life, Garrison said the personalities are diverse, but having a collaborative spirit altogether is key.
“Every account team is comprised of individuals of various titles and levels playing various roles,” Garrison said. “But everyone is working to meet the same communications objectives . . . If you understand both your role and the bigger picture, work well with others day-to-day, and don’t mind working a little above or below your pay grade, so to speak, when needed, you’ll do well and go far.”
Garrison said people tend to believe PR practitioners are type-A because it is necessary to be organized; however, at the same time, we must be flexible. Garrison gave the example of when she represented the state of Georgia at the 2004 G8 Summit, hosted by President Bush on Sea Island. With thousands of credentialed media scheduled to attend, the team had organized dozens of press briefings and tours for the media. Then President Reagan died, and they had to restructure their entire plan.
“Our media pool dwindled,” Garrison said. “We refocused our efforts on offering customized, 1:1 briefings to the most influential media who still attended the Summit, and increased our investment in photography and b-roll so that we could share with media who still intended to cover the Summit, but had to divert their crews. There are no perfect plans in PR. You have to be flexible!”
While the type-A, extroverted personalities might thrive in PR, those introverted personalities do, too. In fact, they keep the balance and calm the storm, especially when the minute-by-minute schedule has to be thrown in the trash.
Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, gives the example of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. Parks was an introvert and King an extrovert.
“A formidable orator refusing to give up his seat on a segregated bus wouldn’t have the same effect as a modest woman who’d clearly prefer to keep silent but for the exigencies of the situation. And Parks didn’t have the stuff to thrill a crowd if she’d tried to stand up and announce that she had a dream. But with King’s help, she didn’t have to.”
So PR folks and others included should learn a lesson from Dr. King and Parks. We may joke about dominant personalities and personalities that might clash with this career path, but we must recognize the power of an introvert in an extrovert’s world and vice versa. Separate, our personalities define us, but as a team, we have the best of both worlds.