17 Tips for Building a Kick-Butt, Wildly Successful PR Career

In two previous MaccaPR blog posts, you’ve bathed in career advice from such public relations luminaries as Honeywell’s Greg Zimprich, Fast Horse founder Jorg Pierach, Lola Red’s Alexis Walsko [Read Part One], Explore Minnesota’s Alyssa Ebel and Haberman agency CEO Fred Haberman [Read Part Two].

Now keep your seatbelt fastened, make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright position and prepare yourself to take flight as I reveal 17 chunks of wisdom I’ve learned over 30 years in PR [Download Tip Sheet].

1. Make Enough Mistakes to Succeed. If you’re not making mistakes in your career, you’re not taking enough foolish risks. Hey, there’s no shame in making mistakes as long as you learn from them. Research published by the Academy of Management Journal found that workers in the NASA space shuttle program, according to Fortune, “not only learned more from failure than from success, but also retained the lessons longer.”

2. Don’t Make the Same Mistakes Twice. However, if you make the same mistakes over and over without learning from your errors? Feh, you’re a schlemiel (it’s Yiddish, look it up).

3. Learn from Other People’s Mistakes. Apply them to your own career. As bridge player Alfred Sheinwold said: “Learn all you can from the mistakes of others. You won’t have time to make them all yourself.”

4. Never Lie. No really, just do not lie. You know what lying feels like. Don’t lie to clients. Not to co-workers. Not (dear God) to journalists or bloggers. Promise yourself that you will never, ever make stuff up. Become legendary for your integrity. It’ll set you apart from 80 percent of the people you meet in business.

5. Guard Your Reputation. Fact: Your resume is one of the least important documents in your career. Your LinkedIn profile? A bit more important. But your reputation and character? What will people you’ve worked with say about you, in private, in confidence? Nothing affects the arc of your career more. How do you establish that reputation? See #4 above.

DonPeppersBook.jpg6. Eliminate Your Ego. Recognize the narcissist in you, and fight it. Absolutely nothing is more corrosive to a career than being someone who is only out for him or herself. Be generous in sharing credit. Embrace humility, and let graciousness flourish. What could be more attractive in our business than a humble PR genius?

7. Always Help Your Co-worker or Client in Crisis. Make it clear you have their back. If a client or co-worker is fired, be the first reassuring voice they hear and the first to take them out to coffee. Let them know that your network has just become their network. Marketing guru Don Peppers (right) wrote in his memoir that he’d tell clients if they ever lost their jobs, his agency would have an empty office with a phone waiting to support their search for their next position. You’d be shocked how many people won’t even return the calls of someone who just lost their job. People never forget their guardian angels. Your wings are waiting.

51llweNXOvL._SX332_BO1204203200_.jpg8. Mourn with Your Colleagues. If a co-worker or client is grieving the loss of a family member...be there. Few others will. When in doubt, attend the funeral of a client or co-worker’s loved one. 'Swim With The Sharks’ author Harvey Mackay (right) recalls standing outside the synagogue after the funeral of his father, and imprinting in his memory the face of every person who cared enough to attend his father’s ceremony.

9. Avoid Non-Competes. Never sign an employment contract that contains a non-compete clause. (Unless I ask you to).

10. Return Phone Calls. Fast. Incredibly, few do this – and if you do, I swear it’ll make a positive impression. Former Minneapolis Star Tribune business writer Neal Gendler told me the story about his attempt to reach Edina Realty CEO Ron Peltier for an interview, only to be told by staff that Peltier was in an airplane en route to a distant business meeting. Minutes later, Gendler’s phone rings – incredibly, it’s Peltier, returning the journalist’s call from 30,000 feet. Decades later, Gendler still retells that story with reverence.

11. Just…Read. If you’re not reading 100-200 pages a week (whether it’s blogs and books, or newspapers and magazines) about new developments in our PR and marketing fields, you’re falling behind the smartest people around you. I’m finding Mashable, Social Media Today, Ragan’s and the HubSpot blog essential reading, but so are Hemingway, Conan Doyle, Shakespeare, Bradbury and Norman Mailer.
12. Be Happy for Everyone. Find satisfaction in the success of your competitors. In fact, challenge yourself to be thankful for the success of your archrivals. A big-time theatrical producer once joked with me, “It’s not enough that I succeed. My friends, too, must fail.” I think he was joking. Become a cheering squad for your peers. It will unsettle your enemies and charm your competitors.

13. Understand the Power of Names. Try hard not to misspell people’s names. It’s one of the only minor transgressions that people never forgive and forget.

14. Say Thanks. Master the exquisite art of individualized thank you’s – personal expressions of gratitude (not a mere email) to anyone who helps you on your career journey. When I was young and foolish, I innocently neglected to thank a Twin Cities business executive who had been enormously helpful when I was networking – and he remembered that slight for more than five years. Be young, but don't be foolish.

15. Mind the Details. The shine of your shoes, the firmness of your handshake, the steadiness of your eye contact, the crispness of your shirt or blouse, your posture, your haircut – all the things that absolutely should not matter in business, matter enormously.

16. Be Engaged and Committed. Don’t let yourself become an order-taker. Train yourself to be proactive. Become an initiator. Go three steps further than anyone expects you to go. Be committed. Lee Aase (below), director of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network, recently underwent a live broadcast on the Periscope app of his own colonoscopy – that’s commitment!


17. Connect with People the Right Way. Finally, understand what networking really is. It’s not about mining business associates for leads to new clients, your next job or any other prize. Networking is the process of getting to know another human being so that you can learn how to best help them out.

Wait...there's more career advice! Check out our latest SlideShare below:

Success Secrets from PR Legends: What We Wish We Knew At 22 from Maccabee Public Relations

About the Author

Paul Maccabee

Paul Maccabee is president at Minneapolis-based Maccabee, a strategic public relations and online marketing agency.

Topics:  PR Perspectives

Related Posts


New Call-to-action

Our Contributors

Paul Maccabee President
Gwen Chynoweth EVP & CTO
Jean Hill Senior VP
Becky Prosser AE - Digital Marketing
Deanna Boss Operations Manager
New Call-to-action
Contact Us Today!

Proudly Featured In: