A few weeks ago I finished reading Talent is Overrated by Fortune Senior Editor Geoff Colvin. It’s a good book; the kind that makes you sit up straight as you’re reading it, as if slouching would do it a disservice.
The book makes a persuasive argument that nature is decidedly subordinate to nurture — at least in regard to concepts such as ‘work’ or ‘performance’. Pointing to a range of examples from the athletic (Jerry Rice, Tiger Woods) to the historic (Benjamin Franklin, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart), Colvin demonstrates that excruciating and deliberate practice improves performance in a way that no other factor seems to replicate.
As I read the book I began to wonder what forms of practice might best apply to PR professionals. It’s one thing to acknowledge that practice improves performance; it’s another to know what forms of practice are worthwhile.
I’ve given it some thought and here are some initial ideas for types of practice that might improve foundational PR skills. I don’t think it begins to scratch the surface however, and would be interested in getting ‘the wisdom of crowds’ on this:
- Improve writing skills, general knowledge, understanding of the media: Taking a page from Benjamin Franklin, choose one article each day in a publication relevant for the industries you support and rewrite it from memory. Wait a few days — rewriting other articles in the intervening period — and compare it with the original. Analyze the differences, the strengths and weaknesses of the comparative pieces and so on.
- Improve overall performance, ability to give and receive feedback: Mimic the military: after any half-way significant endeavor gather team members in a room and disregard hierarchy. What worked (or is working)? What didn’t (or isn’t)? Then take this a step further. Crunch some numbers. If we’re dealing with a pitch, what was the response rate from the email? What was the response rate from follow-up calls? How many calls or emails did it take to reach an interview? Force objectivity and the most excruciating level of self-analysis. Bottom-line, stay objective and reject rank.
- Improve business savvy, writing, and knowledge of media/publicity cycles: The tool of business schools everywhere: force yourself to write one new case study — for a non-client — each month. Pick a major news maker (for good or bad reasons) and outline the entire media cycle. Include metrics when available and make strong conclusions (and recommendations). Submit to your colleagues for review and feedback.
- Improve pitching & business development skills: Force yourself and your team to go to as many networking events not tied to PR or the industries you represent as possible. This isn’t about selling and there should be no pressure. This is about forcing yourself to make connections in a short period of time. Set goals. Make everyone responsible for making at least one connection with a plan for follow-up, at each event.
- Improve message development & delivery: Before every meeting (internal or external) write down your three key messages and brainstorm one attention-grabbing statement. Take notes throughout the meeting to see how well you do sticking to your messages and bridging to them when the conversation takes a turn. Rate yourself after each meeting.
- Improve something: Bottom line, we can all get better at something. Find a flaw and force yourself to confront it. For what it’s worth, my new blog: Difference Engineering, is an example of exactly this point.
I have some other ideas, but I’ll stop here for now. Let me know what you think.