10 lessons from 10 years

by Lisa Donnelly, Associate Director

Somehow, it’s been 10 years since I decided to leave my honours year of Primary Teaching at Strathclyde with an “I’ll work it out” attitude.

Having spent the summer between third and fourth year of Uni doing Camp America in New York, I realised just how big the world was, and decided spending ages 5 to 65 in education just wasn’t for me.

Luckily for me, I did work it out. I applied for a junior position at a boutique PR Agency in 2013,  and here I am 10 years later – Associate Director at Clark.

If I met 21-year-old me today, here’s ten lessons I’d share, after ten years in the industry.

  1. Read the papers. You’re going to be pitching to journalists, so you have to know what they’re writing about. A good PR keeps up with what is going on their client’s industry – and at agency you’ll be working across a range of sectors, in my case, from farming to ferries to finance, so you have to have your finger on the pulse.
  2. Build genuine relationships. With clients, colleagues and journalists. We’re all people with lives outside of work, and if you can get to know your “professional” contacts on a personal level, it brings another layer of enjoyment to the day-to-day which in turn, makes the work better.
  3. Ask questions. The CEOs I’ve admired the most are the ones who ask questions when they don’t know the answer. It’s easy to stay quiet and think “I should know this, so I won’t ask in case I look stupid.” However, actively engaging will build your confidence, and others will see your desire to learn.
  4. Bring solutions when you have a problem. You’re going to encounter issues, double book yourself and not know how to phrase a difficult email. IT’S OK! But when you go to your manager with the problem, take a solution. It might not be the right one, but it shows initiative and helps develop your skills for next time.
  5. Take accountability. A follow on lesson from number four. In crisis PR we learn “it’s not the f*ck up that will kill you – it’s the cover up” and this extends to making mistakes in your work. I’ve had that blood-draining-from-your-body feeling more than once, when I’ve sent the email to the wrong person, or missed a deadline. But you need to throw your hands up straight away – take ownership of the mistake, get help to rectify it and learn from it. Don’t try to cover it up – if it doesn’t work, you’re going to wish you flagged it straight away.
  6. Blank pages are horrible. Opening a new word doc and knowing you have to write a 700 word article (or blog) is horrible. But just dump all your thoughts and research onto the page. It’s easier to edit than write a perfect first draft. Oh, and write the headline last.
  7. Take constructive criticism the way it’s intended – to make you better. It’s not personal, and usually it’s being delivered by someone who can see your potential, and wants to help you grow.
  8. Figure out how you work the best. Mornings are my time to write copy. Afternoons are good for meetings and planning. But remember not everyone will work the same way.
  9. Learn to separate your work persona and personal persona. As a people pleaser, “bothering” people is up there with the most uncomfortable things for me to do. But, if I need to phone a client to ask them to sign something time-sensitive off, I just put my “work Lisa” personality on. She’s more direct, and less bothered about being liked, as long as it gets the job done.
  10. Keep learning. Every day. It’s been ten years for me, and I still eavesdrop on conversations colleagues are having. Or most recently as part of the SMT, I’m learning how the business of PR works. Maybe that will be the focus of my blog in 2033…