20 things 20-year olds don’t get–PR re-mix

Forbes has an interesting article by entrepreneur Jason Nazar on ‘20 things 20-year-olds don’t get’. I was going to comment on some of them, but then thought it might be more useful to share my thoughts on how they are relevant to young people who want to pursue a career in public relations.

The first two points are almost contradictory. ‘Time is Not a Limitless Commodity’ and ‘You’re talented, but talent is overrated’. I’m not too sure about the first one as if anything too many new recruits have too much of a sense of urgency. The main problem is because they are actually talented, they think they can do more than they really can and expect to be promoted and remunerated as if they’ve got years of experience.

‘We’re more productive in the morning’ – well I am and a lot of people I know are. In fact even those who think they work best late at night rarely do, as logically they are tired by then. The key to success is usually people so logically to be successful you need to be most active when the important people are active. That’s more likely to be early than late. So just get up, why don’t you?

‘Social media is not a career’ – no s**t Sherlock! I’d add that social business isn’t a career either. Or social anything. What’s most important is to develop real skills in whatever profession you choose and then try to be the social expert within it. If you want to be in public relations, then learn PR first and be the one that understands how social has changed it. If you want to be in human resources, legal or accountancy then become brilliant at these professions and understand how social has and is changing them. There’s a future in that. There is less of a future in being a social media/web/network/business expert as eventually everyone and every business/organisation will need to embrace at least some of these changes.

‘Pick up the phone’ – bit too specific this one. I’d simply advise that it’s good to make professional friends and that means you’ve got to meet people face to face, stay in touch online and on the phone. There isn’t a best or worst channel as it’s not about your personal preference, it’s about the other person’s preferences.

‘Be the first in and last to leave’ – another I’m not sure about. ‘Presenteeism’ only impresses the most superficial bosses. If you’re going to do the long hours then make sure they count and aren’t just for the sake of it. However, there’s also nothing worse than a clock-watcher. Early in your career most people don’t have any excuse for not arriving early or leaving late. You’re unlikely to have the caring responsibilities (for children or elderly relatives) that you’ll have later in life. So why can’t you get your butt in to work early? Do you really need to dash off for drinks with your mates or a session in the gym straight after work every night? Simple answer is no you don’t. And if there is a big project or deadlines looming then unless what you’ve got going on personally is extremely important, then you can change or cancel it.

‘Don’t wait to be told what to do’ – spot on. Agree with this totally. Far too much emphasis today on entitlement and what’s in it for me, rather than responsibility and what you can do for others. But it’s unfair to blame younger people for this, as many older workers are just as selfish.

‘Take responsibility for your mistakes’ – worst possible sin is trying to cover them up. Best possible scenario is being the one who confesses, apologises and tries to offer a solution or recompense.

You should be getting your butt kicked’ – the most important thing about work is that you enjoy it. But you enjoy it because you’ve chosen the right career for you. But you’re still going to have to work twice as hard as you thought you would, get the half the praise and be forced to do it much better than you thought possible. The harder it is the better you’ll be in 10 or 20 years time, which is what really matters.

‘A new job a year isn’t a good thing’ – nearly always right. It’s definitely right if you’re simply moving for more money or a better job title. Both are superficial. Patience is a virtue. Good fortune comes to those who wait. Do your apprenticeship and get your butt kicked for the first five years of your career and you’ll be a much, much better person and professional later on.

‘People matter more than perks’ – so blindingly obvious it shouldn’t have to be said, but unfortunately in today’s self-first environment it does. A frequent mistake is being more interested in perks, salary and sexy job titles than what you can learn and more importantly contribute.

‘Map effort to your personal gain’ – when I stared in PR in the very late 80s one of the most tiresome jobs was ‘press cuttings’. It was extremely laborious and time-consuming. But, if done properly you also learnt an amazing amount. You’d get to learn all about different types of publication and start to understand different industry sectors.

‘Speak up, not out’ – don’t moan. Not ever. If there is something you’re not happy about then go to whoever is in charge with an idea for how to make it better. If you don’t have a credible idea for how to make it better, then chances are they don’t either. That’s why it’s like it is, so you’ve just got to suffer it like a grown-up.

‘You have to build your technical chops’ – indeed! However, nearly every CV I’ve ever seen the candidate claims to be proficient in Microsoft Office. In reality they are usually clueless and unable to do even simple things like set proper tab stops or use styles. Yes, you do need expertise in WordPress, basic HTML/CSS, PhotoShop and video editing, but even more importantly you’ve got to have mastered the basics first.

‘Both the size and quality of your network matter’ – true. And even before social media there was rarely a real barrier between your personal and professional networks. Today there certainly isn’t and shouldn’t be. That means you’ve got to be a little bit more sensible and restrained in your private life, but employers have also got to understand you’ve got a private life and be a little more tolerant. It’s give and take on both sides that we need.

‘You need at least three professional mentors’ and ‘Pick an idol and act ‘as if’’ – it’s all very well wanting to be an individual, but you’ve got to have role models. But make sure they are the right ones. That doesn’t mean the most high profile or famous, as aren’t usually that relevant.

‘Read more books, less tweets/texts’ – lots wrapped up in this one. The ability to communicate effectively is paramount in almost any role, in public relations even more so. That means the dull stuff like grammar and spelling are important and you’ve got to better than other people. Even more importantly you can’t learn enough from short-form media like Twitter and texts. Nothing can beat reading and learning from a proper book (even if it is on an eReader) and reading a real newspaper everyday (preferably a paper as that means you glimpse content that you’re not really interested in that you too often miss or avoid online). And ignore those who tell you RSS and blogs are dead. They aren’t and you’ll learn a fantastic amount by subscribing to the right ones using your favourite news reader be it Flipboard, Feedly, Taptu or any of the myriad of others to choose from.

Remember it is impossible to know too much about current affairs. I don’t care if you find politics or economics boring. If you want to work in public relations, you’ll never be great unless you understand the world around you.

‘Your reputation is priceless, don’t damage it’ – the biggest factor in your reputation isn’t what you say online or offline, but what you do. Always behave ethically. Always give more than you take. Always be generous. Always be kind. Simply be nice. Those are characteristics that will help you to build your good reputation.

My final piece of advice is to paraphrase President Kennedy and say:

“Ask not what your job can do for you, but what you can do for your job.”

Another good blog post on this subject is Sarah Stimson’s ‘Ten tips for new graduates’.

Thanks to Steve Mallinson-Jones for first alerting me to the original Forbes article.

11 Replies to “20 things 20-year olds don’t get–PR re-mix

  1. Thanks for the mention Stuart. I’ve passed this post on to the Taylor Bennett Foundation trainees. It’s always good for recent grads to hear what they should be doing in order to embrace working life. I find that part of the problem is employers expect graduates (and other entry level workers – not only grads these days) to know instinctively what good professional etiquette is and the truth is, they won’t know until someone tells them.

  2. Hi Stuart,
    I like the way you gave your insight on the article. I am really impressed with your site. How long have you been in the PR arena?

  3. Completely disagree on the morning thing, Stuart. Here’s the assumption that is wrong: nighties are not tired at night. Otherwise we would not be night owls. It’s science, not opinion. Besides, we sleep less than you early risers so have more hours each day to get things done!

  4. Stuart Bruce – PR Futurist 🛰️ Counsel and training for communications teams and PR agencies 📊 Strategist 🗣️ International speaker 📺 NED 📈 Author 📘 Mentor 👂
    Stuart Bruce says:

    Don’t totally disagree, but neither do I agree. Having had work done for me by ‘nighties’ late and work done by the same people during more normal hours I’ve seen the difference in quality. And the fact is they can’t usually deliver as well on the late shift.

    But, regardless of that it’s about when other people are active and available. I’ve not attended many productive meetings late at night, I’ve attended lots of amazing early breakfast meetings. It’s not about how you perform, it’s about how well the team does.

  5. Stuart Bruce – PR Futurist 🛰️ Counsel and training for communications teams and PR agencies 📊 Strategist 🗣️ International speaker 📺 NED 📈 Author 📘 Mentor 👂
    Stuart Bruce says:

    Hi Tom, I stared in 1989 and unusually for someone in public relations it’s what I’ve always done. I didn’t move in from another field. Today, it’s quite normal to start in PR and stick with it. Back then most people I worked with had done something else first, frequently journalism.

  6. Stuart Bruce – PR Futurist 🛰️ Counsel and training for communications teams and PR agencies 📊 Strategist 🗣️ International speaker 📺 NED 📈 Author 📘 Mentor 👂
    Stuart Bruce says:

    Wouldn’t have seen it or had the idea if it hadn’t been for you. So mutual thanks!

  7. Stuart Bruce – PR Futurist 🛰️ Counsel and training for communications teams and PR agencies 📊 Strategist 🗣️ International speaker 📺 NED 📈 Author 📘 Mentor 👂
    Stuart Bruce says:

    Great. Hope they find it useful. I’m planning a ‘What you need to do to be a good PR professional post’. I did one years ago, but I think it’s worthwhile to revisit.

  8. Enjoyed this post and your comments and I thought your last point – about understanding politics and current affairs – is absolutely spot on. It’s something I definitely had to learn the hard way (and quickly) but I still see so many school/university leavers struggling with. And it’s an underestimated quality for PR!

  9. Stuart Bruce – PR Futurist 🛰️ Counsel and training for communications teams and PR agencies 📊 Strategist 🗣️ International speaker 📺 NED 📈 Author 📘 Mentor 👂
    Stuart Bruce says:

    Thanks Janet. Understanding the world and just being switched on is probably one of the most important qualities on the list.

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