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20 Get-Ahead Career Tips From PR Pros

Does your career need a professional makeover? Read these PR strategists' tips!

The best brands hire public relations whizzes to build up a product, promote its best qualities, and just make it look damn good. Since we can’t really hire our own PRs to rev up our image to make us ever-promotion-worthy, Cosmo got the most aggressive PR specialists to share some basic skills and strategies that can give your career a professional makeover. 

1. Be the brand.

You are your brand. You have to live and breathe its DNA,” says Frank Briones, president of Thinline. Clients hire PRs whose personality matches their brand. At work, make sure you live up to the tenets of your company and be game enough to take on whatever project your superiors throw your way. “Conform even if you don’t necessarily agree all the time. Remember, your game face is your currency to success,” he continues.

2. PR is equal parts form and substance.

“Charisma, style, and form” are key in PR, says Leah Caringal, CEO of Greenbulb PR. “Appearances and first impressions are as important as intelligence and grit. Speaking confidently, dressing well, and having a certain charm are the ingredients to success,” she says. Annie Ringor of Bridges PR concurs. “Staying pleasant and being presentable and personable attract good vibes, and may open other channels for you.”

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3. Sharpen your communication skills. 

Successful PR is hinged on good communication—the better you communicate the message, the more successful and effective the campaign. “Work on both your writing and speaking skills and your confidence will increase. You can impress your bosses as you outshine your coworkers, who will regard you with respect,” says Joy Buensalido, president of Buensalido & Associates. “Write efficiently and grammatically correct office correspondence, and be eloquent and articulate when speaking to superiors and colleagues,” she suggests. “Read everything you can from books and magazines to anything on the Internet, and practice reading out loud to hear yourself speak.”

4. Toot your own unique horn.

“What sets one brand from another is determined by its unique DNA and unconventional manner of marketing itself,” says Ginggay de la Merced, general manager of Visions and Expressions. PR people are expected to bring something new to the table, come up with fresh takes and perspectives, and emphasize a brand’s unique selling points. Make sure that you also “harp on the facets that make you unique, and use these traits to make a statement,” she says. 

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5. Practice stakeholder management. 

“In PR, we study strategically how our stakeholders’ interests align with our clients’ interests. Once they align, it’s a beautiful symphony of a campaign,” says Amor Maclang of Geiser Maclang Communications. “In our company, we live by the mantra, ‘Do well by doing good.’” She adds, “Have a purpose, create your relevance. Don’t ever be in it just for yourself, but also think of the good your work can do for others.”

6. But live up to the hype and meet expectations.

“One of the biggest dangers in creating a bold and aggressive campaign is when the product fails to meet the expectations created by all the buzz. The same is true for individuals seeking their ideal careers,” says de la Merced. “Similarly, if you make big claims, be sure to meet those claims. So, cliché as it may seem, being genuine and honest are still the most paramount traits in planning a career path, as it is in PR.”

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7. Create a strong positioning for yourself. 

“Innovate and you’ll never age!” Maclang says. “Aging [or in our case, becoming dispensable] is not a physiological process; it’s years of becoming irrelevant. If our campaigns are not enhanced by the latest technology or methodology, we shortchange ourselves and our clients,” Maclang says. For her, continuous and constant innovation can only make your career fly. “Be innovative. Trailblaze by transforming—whether it’s your haircut, your fashion, or the way you do your work.”

8. Have the O factor.

“Why is Oprah one of the most successful people in the world?” asks Caringal. “It’s because of her ability to listen and feel for her audience.” Caringal calls it the “Oprah factor”: the penchant for showing kindness and sensitivity when dealing with people, even at work. “In PR or any career path, listening to a boss, a client, or a colleague is important. One always has a ‘client’ or a ‘customer’ to serve or assist.” She adds, “Knowing, listening and understanding their needs is half of your job. The other half is finding the solution to a problem, concern, or challenge.”

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9. Being Miss Congeniality always helps.

Edd Fuentes, president and CEO of Fuentes Manila, believes that to advance in any workplace, you have to be “ma-PR, which means making friends with people—[and being civil] even to those you want to feed to Lolong the crocodile. Remember, PR is like politics—it’s all about addition [adding people to your network], not subtraction.” Adds Caringal, “In PR, [you have to] be a ‘friend to all’ and be a mediator when needed. It really pays to have a large network, or to know people whom you may help or may help you one day.” In most parts of the world, she says, there’s what you call Six Degrees of Separation. “In the Philippines,” she notes, “it’s only two degrees. Being a sincere friend always helps in the workplace and beyond.”

10. Adjust to every type of personality you encounter.

A PR practitioner is required to be flexible, capable of tolerating differences, and keeping an open mind even when dealing with “difficult” people. Buensalido believes this PR strat is important especially when interacting with your bosses and co-workers. “Try to understand what makes them act the way they do. If they make your life difficult, work harder to get to know them. Instead of hating them, make them appreciate you better. This will also be helpful when you start managing your own people later on. You will know how to motivate and recognize their contributions to you,” she says.

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11. Show sincerity.

“Contrary to what people perceive, PR is not just about smooching and kissing ass,” Maclang asserts. Whether you’re in the PR industry or not, it pays to be sincere. “Never, never lie about anything, or fake interest nor enthusiasm. People are smart, they’ll know. It’s a sense of perspective as well. In dealing with people and networking, while you may not have anything common with someone initially, align and sync based on commonalities or dislikes. Regardless, there’s always room to rhyme,” she says.

12. Know your audience—and its quirks and culture.

Public relations, according to de la Merced, is all about relating to the nature and nuances of a particular market. “Most successful international brands understand this well. This is probably why most global PR mandates making adjustments to the local market,” she shares. In the workplace, she says, “it will be extremely helpful for you to know the intricacies of the people you interface with. If you know the culture of your workplace, you’ll be more effective in dealing with the people you work with. If you know the culture of your customers, you’ll know best how to approach them. This goes beyond the ability of merely fitting in. It provides the platform to stand out.”

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13. Benchmark yourself against your competition.

Healthy competition encourages PR firms to push themselves harder to come up with better and bigger campaigns. In the workplace, Maclang advises, “Be fiercely competitive without being consumed by it. Remember, competition can be civil and friendly.” Briones adds, “Always take opportunities to outshine your peers without appearing to be very competitive. But don’t step on someone’s foot or your stilettos won’t take you very far ahead.”

14. Anticipate every possible eventuality and know how to troubleshoot. “PR as a marketing tool aims to ensure that the public’s reaction is beneficial to the brand it serves. If there is any potential backlash, changes should be made quickly,” says de la Merced. Such flexibility and foresight should be applied to one’s career as well. “Some women are so firm and rigid about their career path. They must learn that certain things will happen that’s beyond their control. What matters is how effectively they anticipate these seemingly unexpected developments and adjust accordingly,” she says.

15. Manage crises as if they aren’t.

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PR specialists are huge optimists—for them, “a situation only becomes a crisis depending on how you react to it,” Maclang says. “Up until you deliberate and determine your steps, it’s only a ‘situation.’ And no situation is insurmountable.” She points out that “untrue things will be said and believed, but stay unfazed, keep your head up, and be quick to forgive mistakes, especially your own. Besides, who doesn’t have an Internet scandal these days?” 

16. Learn how to follow up without being pesky.

Publicists know this too well—they just can’t call their contacts every other five minutes to follow up. At work, you’re expected to do the same. “Don’t be too makulit when you need something from other people,” says Fuentes. “Nobody wants a stalker.”

17. Establish good social media presence.

De la Merced says social media has evolved how PR is done—digital marketing efforts are making more impact these days. So, beef up your career portfolio and whip up impressionable social networking profile pages. “Any Facebook status, tweet, or blog post reflects your character, which relates back to your work. If you show a negative outlook, a potential employer can size you up as not a good fit for their environment just by virtue of those negative entries. How you conduct yourself in social media must always be consistent with how you truly are in personal interactions,” says Joven.

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18. Recognize teamwork.

Any campaign is a product of teamwork, so “[I’m] only as good as my clients and my team,” says Maclang. The greatest mistake you’ll ever commit when you’re getting to the top of your game is “thinking it’s all about you.” Remember, she says, “you also owe your success to the people around you, from the manangs who’ve helped you pack for a rush business trip, to the team who’s been with you through all trials.”

19. Always ask yourself: “What’s next?”

A number of global brands are at the forefront of success, because their creative directors and CEOs asked this fundamental question: “What’s next?” “It pays to have a forward-looking point of view,” advises de la Merced. “Always look beyond what’s current. Having that pulse for what’s new in itself is a big advantage.”

20. Know when to stop.

Caringal states a fact: While it is great to give 100 percent of oneself to a task or project, you have to recognize when it’s not working. “Burnout is inevitable when stopping is not an option,” she says. Think you’re no longer cut out to do the work that you do? It’s time to think: Maybe that job isn’t really for you.

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This story originally appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine, November 2011. 

* Minor edits have been made by editors