Rewind to just over a year ago and I was about to be interviewed for the role of account executive at Skout. As you can imagine, I was a bit nervous as I had little practical experience working within the professional PR industry. Despite having an undergraduate degree in public relations and a master’s degree in international relations, I had been working within the world of food retail for nearly ten years.
My previous role involved running the checkouts as a team leader at the local supermarket in my home town. While many may believe this is an ‘easy’ job, it was far from it. My average day was spent dealing with enquiries from customers, supervising staff, managing queues and liaising with the managers. Not to mention the daily wrestle with department politics (the grocery staff did not really get on well with the checkout assistants).
Reflecting back at my time in the retail industry and thinking about my experiences working within PR, I have drawn some stark conclusions – there are some things that are remarkably similar!
1.Clients are like shoppers – keep them happy!
Working within a supermarket means that you get to meet thousands of people, who all have different needs and expectations. This is similar to clients. While in B2B PR you don’t always encounter the serial complainer that is normally described by the name ‘Karen’ ( we do have a client named Karen who is extremely nice), you do encounter lots of different personalities who all want different results. For example, some of our clients are always excited by coverage numbers whereas others will be much more impressed by content that leads to lead generation.
Keeping your clients happy and nurturing good relationships is an important part of the job. At the supermarket, this meant advising your customers on what shampoo to buy (really) or letting them know when a product would be in stock. In B2B PR this can range from drafting a good quality article to thinking of new content ideas – or even sending them a gift at Christmas.
2.Solving problems and overcoming challenges – fast!
In the not so distant past, I found myself in many different situations that required quick thinking. Some typical scenarios included: cashiers making mistakes on the tills; shoppers getting their heads stuck in toilet doors; shoplifters trying to steal big trolly loads of alcohol; and, attempting to get enough staff on the checkouts when the regular Thursday morning community bus arrived. Phew – it was all very exciting.
This approach is needed in B2B PR. For example, sometimes it may be a struggle to find a home for a niche client blog and you need to think creatively to find other ways it can be used. Or, there may be an opportunity that arises outside of the original plan. In this case, you need to be ready to pounce, prioritise and be proactive. However, what I have realised is that experience helps! The more times you have been in this sort of situation, the faster you can react and generate a successful outcome.
3.Communication is key – don’t be afraid!
When I first started working as a checkout assistant, I was very quiet for the first year. However, as I got to know my colleagues, I began to realise that talking and listening was a big part of the job and an essential ability to have. This did not only ring true for communicating with the wider team but also with customers. After being promoted to team leader, this was even more critical. From answering phones and talking to customers to learning new skills and training new starters, I became an expert (not to toot my own horn). As a result, this helped me realise that the best tool in your communication toolkit is knowing when to ask for help, which is something I still believe today.
Communication is also an extremely important part of working within PR, even if you disregard all the pitching to the media. Talking to your fellow co-workers helps you develop your thoughts and brings you closer together as a team, which in turn contributes to the success of your clients. And, with many seasoned PR professional veterans around you, listening to their perspectives and learning from their experiences is a great way for your confidence to grow.
If you’re looking to go into public relations but your background is far from it, don’t be disheartened. You may find that your current role offers many valuable skills that will prepare you for the challenges associated with being a PR professional.