Opinion

Observations from the PR industry after two years as a Sydneysider

303MullenLowe's Lee Robson details his PR observations after two years in Sydney. Spoiler alert: everyone’s media database is out of date.

Coming up to the end of my second year in Australia and still a relative newbie with the talented people at 303 MullenLowe in Sydney, now felt like a good time to reflect on the journey that brought me here, and what I’ve learned from the best part of the past two decades in the restless and rewarding world of PR and communications.

PR practitioners care more about the results we chase than any other field I’ve ever come across.

Only those who have worked in PR will ever know the exquisite pain of seeing your carefully crafted story bumped from the news agenda, or the unbridled joy of seeing your yarn splashed across the morning papers. For one reason or another we’ve chosen to work in a field where we spend all our time talking about other people, about how good our clients, CEOs or brands are.

We’re salespeople without sales incentives and the success we generate in the form of coverage invariably lands in someone else’s lap to champion further up the chain. My advice to anyone looking to get into PR for personal fame and glory is, you might want to consider a less deferential career path, but if it’s the challenge that drives you and are comfortable being the one shining the spotlight instead of standing in it, there’s no better place to be.

The ability to write well has to be properly championed again in our industry.

That’s not to say writing is the be all and end all of modern-day PR but I think we’ve allowed the bar to fall way too low in this area in the pursuit of digital skills. Whether it’s a video script, a social post or a humble media alert, the ability to string a sentence together on paper should be more than just a ‘nice-to-have’ on a list of PR proficiencies.

There are plenty of career paths open to creative expression, but when it comes to identifying PR talent, an appreciation for the written word has to be pushed further back up the list of pre-requisites.

If you’re not an expert in PR, find a way to be comfortable putting your trust in the people you hired to be the experts on your behalf.

I’ve worked with some brilliant non-PR people who have added a huge amount of value to PR campaigns. Sadly, I’ve also worked with several who have had PR bundled into their remit with no appreciation of the nuances and subtleties of the discipline. The key benefit of bringing in an agency comes through the acquisition of skills and expertise you don’t possess in-house. But if you’re not prepared to put your faith in the experts you’ve asked to guide you, then you don’t have a leg to stand on when you stumble.

It’s not about what you want to talk about, it’s what other people want to hear.

Being a good PR is like being a good poker player. Anyone who’s just picked up a pack of cards can get lucky in one hand, but it takes practice, skill and perseverance to get lucky time and time again.

PR is better in the sunshine.

People still ask me what I think the biggest differences are between PR in Sydney and the UK. The honest truth is I’ve been genuinely impressed with the strategic thinking, creativity and work ethic in Australia, but what I love about my experience so far is the softer walls between work and life and how embracing life outside the office can have a positive impact on attitudes, ideas and approaches inside it.

Primum non nocere, or first do no harm.

Whether or not I’m able to see out my career having felt I’ve made a positive and lasting impact on the world remains to be seen, but I’m going to make damn sure I don’t end my career feeling guilty for any of the actions I’ve taken. I’m comfortable knowing I’ve played my part on occasion in persuading people to part with their hard-earned cash for things they didn’t really need, but I’d like to think if The Devil ever came asking for my help with his image, no matter what the size of the pay-cheque, I’d have the courage of my convictions to say “no thanks, I don’t want to move to Washington DC”.

Look for opportunities to move between in-house and agency roles.

The client-side roles I’ve held have been invaluable in terms of learning how to ensure PR proves its potential to the wider business, while taking a leading role in bridging gaps between other departments in a way that only those with comms skills can. On the other hand, my agency roles have sharpened my abilities and accelerated my learning and proficiencies at a much faster rate. 

Learn to be comfortable with taking yourself outside your comfort zone and you’ll thank yourself later.

Everyone’s media database is out of date.

PRs are at their strongest when they believe in their message. I can say without remorse, my best work has been on campaigns I care about, working with and for people I like, on products I would buy and for services I would use. PRs are the mouthpiece of your brand. It’s our job to be convincing and it’s so much easier when we ourselves are convinced. As an agency, wherever possible put your people on accounts they have an interest in and as a client, invest the time in making sure your agency gets to know your brand, product, service and business as intimately as possible.

Lee Robson is managing partner, communications at 303MullenLowe Sydney. His 15+ year career has spanned roles in London, Manchester and Sydney.

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