6 Lessons Learned from a Career in PR

Debbie at first job WBVP RadioAt the end of this month I am retiring after nearly 40 years in the biz. Retirement is not a word I like to use because it doesn’t really define how we baby boomers are viewing this next stage of life – continued learning, travel, grandkids, exercise, sports and FUN! But, as with any transition, retirement is a time of reflection. It’s a chance to look back and say, “Wow that was a great career!” And it really has been. And, it’s a time to take stock in what I have learned that might be useful to pass on to those who will sit in this chair after I leave.

PR is not just a life saver, it’s a life line. It’s unfortunate that many organizations think of public relations after “you know what” has hit the fan. When bad PR threatens reputations, we as PR professionals are expected to clean up the mess and right the course. Don’t get me wrong, this is an important function of public relations and thanks to crisis communications, I’ve put two girls through college. But honestly, if PR was more often embraced as an essential business strategy, there would be less fire extinguishing. Reputation is an asset that needs to be diligently nurtured and watched and that will only occur when PR professionals are at the table.

Norfolk team at Salvation Army eventIt’s not about us, it’s about them. All too often, executives have an agenda of what they want communicated. The problem is that people don’t care about what most companies have to say, they care about themselves. Becoming audience centric is one of the hardest steps for public relations people to take. Unfortunately, PR people are often order takers, not order givers. I’ve been there myself; trying to balance between relevancy and what the company wants. Fortunately, with the introduction of new approaches such as brand journalism and the realization that social media requires more transparency, the interests of the end user are being put in the forefront. When you talk to people about things they are interested in their ears perk up.

Have one step in the future and one in the present. A wise colleague once told me that the real skill to PR is to always know where you’ve been, know where you are going and know where you are right now. For agency professionals in particular, there’s an art to staying just enough ahead of your client to bring fresh thinking, but not too far to cause client meltdown. To do this, you really need to understand the culture of organizations and the tolerance people have for moving in any particular direction. If you master this, you will continually add value to any organization.

Don’t lie. Seriously, it’s a problem in our industry. Maybe not flat-out lying, but certainly a little fibbing and a lot of spinning. The moniker of Spin Doctor was one of the worse characterizations to fall upon public relations people. We should be good story tellers and know how to weave a great message. But, honesty is always the best policy. What we do must be founded on establishing trust – with the media, with the public and with our bosses and colleagues. No exceptions.

Grammar still matters. At the very core of public relations is the written and spoken word. As a society, we have become lax about grammar. Poor grammar usage has become more acceptable – evidence the nail screeching improper use of the first person pronouns me and I among many Millennials. Employers are insisting on more perfection and if you are working in public relations, you’d better nail grammar if you want to advance.

Debbie's retirement partyBe courageous. The Public Relations profession is not for sissies. It requires a tough skin that can handle rejection and a cool and calm demeanor in the face of disaster. Good PR people are comfortable putting other people’s needs ahead of theirs. They are willing to work long hours, including holidays and weekends, and do what it takes to get the job done. They are curious and nosey and ask a million questions. They are the first to arrive at an event and the last to leave. They are willing to take risks, break rules, and do things they never thought they were capable of. Most importantly, public relations people have big hearts because they love what they do.

PR is part of my DNA now. Even in retirement, I will continue to consult and mentor young professionals in our industry. I have had a wonderful career and I want to thank my colleagues at PadillaCRT for giving me this opportunity to offer up some insights and to say a fond farewell.

About Debbie Myers:

By delivering proven results for clients, Debbie has helped PadillaCRT become one of the top 20 Health PR and marketing firms in the country. With 28 years of healthcare public relations and marketing experience, she has a strong background in strategic communications planning, branding and issues management. Debbie is an Senior Vice President at PadillaCRT and co-leads the agency's Health Practice. Debbie holds a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio, and a master’s in business administration from Averett University in Danville, Va.

23 Comments on “6 Lessons Learned from a Career in PR

  1.  by  Ellen LaNicca

    A note to thank Debbie for all the years, joy, great ideas and collaboration. Great post which I hope lots of people read. You will be missed!

    •  by  Debbie Myers

      Thank you, Ellen and Kim for your kind remarks. I will miss you too.

  2.  by  Kim Blake

    Great lessons from one of the best! Debbie, thank you for being a wonderful boss, mentor, and friend. Wishing you all the best in the next chapter of your life! “Built to Last” author Jim Collins talks about “time tellers” v. “clock builders.” Time tellers just focus on getting the work done – clock builders create companies and mentor individuals that will prosper far beyond the tenure of any single leader. You are the latter – someone who has helped positively influence the careers of so many people in our organization. You will be missed!

  3.  by  Louise Edwards

    Debbie: I have thoroughly enjoyed with you over the years. Your candor and insights have always been vey valuable to our organization. I wish you and Billy the very best in this next phase of your life….I’ve only got 12 mote years to go before I have mine 🙂

    •  by  Debbie Myers

      You were a wonderful client and a good friend. Best to you!

  4.  by  Jason Stemm

    Debbie, I will always value the time I have had the privilege to work with you. Your wisdom, dedication and passion have been inspirational to those around you. Congratulations on 15 wonderful years at the agency, and best wishes in the next chapter.

    •  by  Debbie Myers

      Thanks so much Jason. I wish you much success for the future.

  5.  by  Michael

    Still feel stupid that I missed Norfolk party and now I’m away during your visit to Richmond. I will buy the wine next time we visit and thank you personally for your contribution to our agency and to me. You are a great pro, and you will be so valuable to the grandkids that they’ll tell their grandchildren about you. You’ve left a very positive mark in the professional world and wherever you’ve chosen to give of yourself. Thanks for all of your good counsel and sound advice over the years and for the pleasure of working with you. Best, M

    •  by  Debbie Myers

      Michael, I’ve been fortunate to work with pros like you. I will definitely take you up on the wine offer. Thanks so much.

  6.  by  Mindy Hughes

    Debbie, congratulations on a successful career and best wishes for a great transition into this exciting new season of life! Thanks for offering such great insights, and thanks for your commitment to mentoring the younger professionals coming up behind us.

    •  by  Debbie Myers

      So nice to hear from you. Thanks for your kind remarks.

  7.  by  Jeff Wilson

    Debbie Myers: Always a pro. Always fun to be around. Always has a reporter’s instincts. I’ve enjoyed being in the trenches with you!

    •  by  Debbie Myers

      Jeff, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working in the trenches with you…and having you as a great friend. Best to you always.

  8.  by  Mark

    A class act and a friend of 30 years. You will be missed. M

    •  by  Debbie Myers

      You brought me into the agency world and I will be forever grateful for your wisdom, your guidance and your friendship. Friends for life.

  9.  by  Kelly Sakalas

    Congrats on your retirement, Debbie! And thank you for all you’ve done to help my career. I will never forget the wonderful culture and environment that you created and welcomed me into at the Norfolk office. You should be so proud of all you’ve accomplished and I hope that we keep in touch. Best wishes and enjoy the next chapter!

    •  by  Debbie Myers

      It’s been wonderful working with talented people like you. All the best for a bright future.

  10.  by  Charlotte Evans

    Thank you for teaching all of us – CEOs, clients, your health care team and many more. How I wish that you had been my first PR boss and mentor instead of my last one. It’s good to read that you will continue to be a mentor. You did the full package – fantastic wife, inspiring mother, and fun, smart and funny professional. Best wishes. You had an incredible career. How fortunate are those of us who got to watch and be so very proud of you.
    Best, Charlotte

    •  by  Debbie Myers

      You have been a wonderful role model for me. You represent what goodness, kindness and support is all about. Thank you for being…well, just you! You’re the best.

  11.  by  Lisa

    Congratulations to a truly remarkable woman -PR professional, mentor, friend, mother, sister, wife and nana. I had the unique pleasure of being one of your clients and one of your Health Practice colleagues in the Norfolk office. I am hopeful that the team you have left behind will be able to build on the legacy that you have left us. And just know that we will often ask “What would Debbie do?” as we reflect on and imitate your many witticisms over the years. The best part is that you’re only a phone call away, and I intend to keep you on speed dial 🙂 Thanks for being one of the top bosses of my career. Enjoy your next chapter! -Lisa

    •  by  Debbie Myers

      The pleasure has been all mine. You are so smart and talented. I am certain that you and the team will continue to provide outstanding expertise and counsel to your clients. Best wishes for a fabulous future.

  12.  by  Kevin Gaydosh

    Words to the wise, from the wise. Congrats, Debbie, and best wishes for your next exciting chapter that’s just beginning.

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