PR Pros: Robert Simpson Of PR Associates On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro
Strategic thinking — I can’t express this enough. If you want a long career in public relations you need to keep current, do your research, and be a strategic thinker. If you have excellent strategic thinking skills, they will come from a place of passion, vision and knowing you client’s subject matter like the back of our hand.This will go a long way in helping build your career. You not only leave a good impression, you get a reputation for working outside the box, and if you are going to last in these careers, that’s where you need to learn to work.
Have you seen the show Flack? Ever think of pursuing a real-life career in PR? What does it take to succeed in PR? What are the different forms of Public Relations? Do you have to have a college degree in PR? How can you create a highly lucrative career in PR? In this interview series, called “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro” we are talking to successful publicists and Public Relations pros, who can share stories and insights from their experiences. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Robert Simpson, CEO PR Associates. Robert has twenty-five years of public relations experience with the contacts to get things done. He is a a master storyteller recreational fiction writer, strategic communicator, thought leader, and is motivated by conversations that get people noticed, broad smiles, and cold mojitos on sunny beaches.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started my career as a teacher then journalist and after starting and selling several companies, I founded a public relations firm.
Initially, we started with a few clients in the resource sector and, in a short period of time, had the largest resource sector PR practice in North America. In 2008, when the bottom fell out of the resource sector we needed to diversify and quickly grew out of necessity into the life science, health, technology, and agri-food sectors.
I somewhat stumbled into being an entrepreneur and didn’t realize I was one until several years after I started my first company. My journey started out of necessity. I was unemployed and needed to find ways to make an income. Since then, I have created, bought, and sold several companies but never saw myself as an entrepreneur, more of a big idea guy.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
One afternoon, a man dressed in a pair of tattered blue jeans and a rumpled T-shirt looking rather disheveled arrived in my office and asked to see me. We introduced ourselves and he asked me what public relations was and how it worked. When I explained that a large part of the public relations profession involves garnering publicity through the media because people often view media coverage as more credible than traditional advertising or promotional efforts. He stood, thanked me for my time, and disappeared. Six months later, that same man, along with two vice presidents, legal counsel, and a chief financial officer, walked into our office all dressed In expensive suits. They requested a meeting to discuss how we could help them with their company’s reputation. After the meeting, they asked for a contract and three weeks later we started working with what soon became the second largest diamond mining company in the world. We stayed together for fifteen years until the company was bought out by DeBeers, the largest diamond mining company in the world. I guess what makes this story interesting is the adage “you can never judge a book by its cover” is true. The man who had come to my office was the geologist that had made the diamond discovery and, soon after, became a billionaire along with his business partners.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’m not sure that when I started I thought any of my mistakes were funny. Over the years, I have come to realize that the most important life lesson is that failure isn’t bad. Rather it helps you make better choices in the future. For example, early on when we were scrambling for business, we had submitted a proposal to provide media relations for a prestigious event and were verbally confirmed by the client that we had won the bid. We were all excited and put out a press release publicizing we were the PR firm who had successfully won the contract. The news travelled fast and after several congratulatory calls, and even a mention in a national public relations industry publication, the client contacted us and indicated that they had changed their mind. After they spoke with us, their former firm had come back to them with a more competitive offer. In retrospect, I learned three things. First, you don’t have the business until there’s a contract; second, never underestimate the motives of unscrupulous operators and, third, be prepared for change. As Karma would have it, the firm that renegotiated their agreement and lowered their price was never fully paid for their work and the organization went bankrupt. So, in a way there was a silver lining.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
We are a science-based public relations firm and many of the projects we work on are solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems in health, environment, and technology. If I had to choose two sectors that are most interesting and exciting are the strides that are being made in the biotechnology and artificial intelligence sectors.
In the biotechnology space, we are seeing significant contributions to extending the human lifespan and improving quality of life, including providing products and therapies to combat diseases, generating higher crop yields, and using reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In the artificial intelligence space, we are seeing incredible advances in Machine Learning Operations and advanced pre-trained language models. We are also seeing artificial intelligence continue along the path to becoming the most transformative technology humanity has ever developed. According to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, its impact will be even greater than that of fire or electricity on our development as a species. This may seem like a very ambitious claim, but considering it is already being used to help us tackle climate change, explore space, and develop treatments for cancer, the potential is clearly there.
You are a successful leader. Which three-character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Motivation. Aligning your strengths with intrinsic motivations are key to making a rise to the top.
- Creativity. This provides our competitive advantage.
- Vision for continued growth and for our employees to have ownership of the company when I am gone.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, can you help articulate what the different forms of PR are?
Public relations have taken many forms over the years, but fundamentally PR has stayed the same and that’s managing and delivering information from individuals or organization to the public to positively affect their public perception.
There are two key types of public relations, business-to-business and business-to-consumer. The typical PR functions fall into these categories: media relations, community relations, public affairs, digital communication, crisis communication.
Media relations is all about dealing with the media to generate positive coverage for the company or the product. The key for media relations is to have an eye for a compelling story that the media will want to cover.
Community relations is about working to develop a company’s relationship with the local community.
Public affairs are defined as effort made to track, engage, and influence public policy, build and maintain strong relations with legislators and influence legislative change.
Digital communication is the most recent addition to the public relations tool kit. This includes using social media and digital marketing to reach people and influence their perceptions.
Crisis communication is helping individuals and organizations manage their reputations while struggling with issues or crisis.
Where should a young person considering a career in PR start their education? Should they get a degree in communications? A degree in journalism? Can you explain what you mean?
I’m an advocate for people who major in journalism communications, marketing or organizational communication, and public relations. But the biggest attribute is learning how to write. Writing skills are fundamental to public relations careers and the biggest shortfall I often hear in the industry. It’s also important to have an interest in media. We’re in an industry that is constantly evolving. To develop strategies for our clients that bridge the gap between digital marketing and traditional PR, it’s important to consume all media from newspapers to blogs, magazines to social channels.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
I am not an extrovert by nature, so networking is the most difficult part of my job, but over the years I’ve relied on a few tips I learned early on in my career.
- Make two lists. The first one is people you’ve met and want to strengthen your relationship with and the second, people you want to meet. Then do your research, reach out on LinkedIn and learn about these people, which will help guide conversations and quickly get beyond the awkward small talk. I always look for some interesting but not well-known fact about an Individual and then drop that into the conversation. Most importantly, remember people’s names and the conversations you’ve had previously.
- Stand by the bar. The best place to stand at an event is right where people leave when exiting the bar. They have a drink in their hand, and are ready to mingle.
- Have an elevator pitch to introduce yourself and then don’t spend your time trying to sell yourself or a product, that comes later after you’ve established a trustworthy relationship.
- Follow-up. Always send a brief note after the event. This goes a long way the next time you see the person.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
The best leads come through referrals, and referrals come from happy clients. We also use digital marketing to generate leads, along with website optimization, content creation and LinkedIn campaigns, but at the end of the day, a referral and word of mouth marketing is still the best for generating leads.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are your “5 Things You Need to Create a Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro” and why.
In public relations, your reputation is key. Being upfront, honest, and sticking to your core values in your professional life will help you sleep better at night. A reputation as an honest broker will also enhance your networks and the quality of your work. Alternative facts, spin, and mistruths will diminish your hard work when representing a client and their brand. To excel in the PR world, stick to the truth, even if it sometimes means setting some clients free.
Relationship building skills
The ability to build your professional network is a crucial skill for success in public relations. Your ability to build relationships in expressing your confidence and charisma are necessary to compliment your creative, oral, and written communication skills. The adage is that the more people you know, the more people know you.
I can’t express this enough. If you want a long career in public relations you need to keep current, do your research, and be a strategic thinker. If you have excellent strategic thinking skills, they will come from a place of passion, vision and knowing you client’s subject matter like the back of our hand.This will go a long way in helping build your career. You not only leave a good impression, you get a reputation for working outside the box, and if you are going to last in these careers, that’s where you need to learn to work.
Write well and never stop practicing
Having polished writing skills is critical in the public relations profession, and then keep practicing. The more you write the better you get. I write all the time. I still freelance for magazines, write blogs, write scripts, and write fiction, which helps improve my writing every day. The more styles you write in the better. If you’re not a writer you can learn to be one, just like you can learn to play the piano if you put your mind to it. I read once it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert but writing, well takes a lifetime.
Learn how to fail
Resilience. It’s the secret ingredient for success. The lesson I’ve learned in public relations if you haven’t failed, you’re not reaching high enough. If you are going places, failure is just part of the deal, but that’s okay because we can fix failure. You can’t fix the things you never tried. You can’t undo those things you never attempted in the first place. If you stop trying, you’ll always wonder about what could have been. That kind of regret is a heavy burden that a lot of people will bear because they played it safe, or maybe even failed a time or two and gave up.
I’ve got lots of failure stories, like battle scars that I show off now with pride because out of each failure has come success, and I think if you want a career in the public relations industry or be a leader in the industry, get busy. Work hard. Never give up. If you fail, try again. No matter how difficult, one day the lights come on and the world will be better off for it.
Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Given the current situation, I would invest in the civic education and understanding our political institutions, encourage more participation and engagement in our democracy and in our elections. Take pride in the social, economic, and political benefits that we all enjoy, rather than seeing us go down the track of dividing our citizens along the lines of beliefs and values — democracy is a belief and a value, and one we should all be very proud to be a part of.
This was meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.
PR Pros: Robert Simpson Of PR Associates On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.