Six Traits of Great PR Firm Presidents

By Julie Dennehy, APR and President, Dennehy Public Relations

Dennehy PR  The first quality of a great entrepreneur and PR firm owner is not your ability to bring in the green and service your clients, but your sense of curiosity and love of novelty… two foundational characteristics that lay the groundwork for a great PR practice. Afraid of technology, or to try something shiny and new? Read on for inspiration.

A recent post on by one of my favorite Inc. writers and business authors on the subject, Jeff Haden, outlines “Nine qualities of remarkable entrepreneurs” got me thinking about our own independent PR practices. What skills do we already possess, and where are we lacking? Are we great at billing out, but lousy at giving back? Do we give too much of our time to charities, but not find time to seek out something new for ourselves? Do we try to hard to separate work from family without recognizing that the business is simply another family member? Fascinating to think about.

According to Haden, great business leaders make a huge impact on their employees, industries, and communities.  Do these qualities describe you as a PR firm owner – or a client or prospect you admire?  Here is my own spin on six of Haden’s nine qualities; click the link above to his article for the rest and see if any of these motivate you to change the way you view yourself as an entrepreneur.

1. Seek new experiences relentlessly.

Some people prefer jumping out of a plane or buying an African bush lodge, most of us prefer to novelty seeking in their own backyard. My mentor called it a calculated risk; my parents called it imagination. However you view and pursue novelty seeking, it is a recipe for health, happiness and personality growth: adventurousness and persistent curiosity with a pinch of altruism and cup of empathy and creativity.

2. Don’t think work/life balance; just think life.

Take a deep breath before you read this.  According to Haden, symbolic work-life boundaries are impossible to maintain because you are your business, your business is your life, and your life is your business. Separating them means changing who you are, and I have always believed that great independent PR firm owners find creative ways to build their client base with companies they truly love AND find ways to include family and friends in their convoluted lives, instead of ways to exclude work.

I once had the pleasure of hearing famed animator and artist Chuck Jones speak at Harvard and he passed along some simple and memorable advice: “Simply figure out what you love to do, then find someone who will pay you to do it.”  Love golf? Bring in a golf resort as a client, combining your hobbies and your work.

3. Be empathetic.

In my experience, I have watched highly successful PR pros who are incredibly creative, sensitive and empathetic. I’ve also seen the reverse may be true: strategists and tacticians without social graces or empathy… and a “revolving door” client list the size of their egos. Simply put: you can’t solve a problem if you can’t put yourself in someone else’s shoes long enough to see from a different perspective. 

4. Prove something to yourself, not others.

What keeps you up at night? What gives you the drive to continue running your own practice day after day, year after year? This is where it gets personal: great firm owners recognize that their own drive comes from within, rather than a drive to prove themselves to anyone – your parents, colleagues, or that guy bragging at the gym.

5. Forget about the traditional workweek.

It’s great to be productive, but I believe smart PR firm owners know that when the pressure is on, true leaders get cooking. Haden retells this famous Kennedy tale: “The author Richard North Patterson tells a great story about Robert Kennedy. Kennedy was seeking to indict Teamsters head Jimmy Hoffa (who some believe is chilling in Argentina with Elvis and Jim Morrison). One night Kennedy worked on the Hoffa case until about 2 a.m. One his way home he passed the Teamsters building and saw the lights were still on in Hoffa’s office, so he turned around and went back to work.”

According to Haden, “There will always be people who are smarter and more talented than you. Remarkable entrepreneurs want it more. They’re ruthless—especially with themselves. Remarkable entrepreneurs simply work harder. That’s the real secret of their success.

6. Success is fleeting, but dignity and respect last forever.

Providing your small firm’s employees/subcontractors, vendors and clients with higher pay, better benefits, and greater opportunities is important, but lead with your heart. No level of pay and benefits can overcome damage to self-esteem and self-worth.

What qualities did we leave out? What do you think is a recipe for success for PR firm owners?  Comment below or tweet me @dennehypr to continue the discussion.

“A lion’s work hours are only when he’s hungry; once he’s satisfied, the predator and prey live peacefully together.” 

— Chuck Jones


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