Five Lessons I Learned After I Thought I Had “Finished” Learning

Ok I confess: I’m kind of a nerd.  I was always that student who loved school.  As a kid I would line up my dolls and pretend to “teach” them as I wrote the day’s lesson plan on a chalkboard in my bedroom.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in communication, I worked for a year in a communications office before I decided I wasn’t finished learning, so I went back to graduate school and earned a master’s degree. And I thought I was pretty smart.  I learned a lot of stuff and memorized a lot of theories. I was ready to take on the working world.

And then…I started working at Cookerly Public Relations, and I realized I didn’t know as much as I thought I did about my field.  Much to my surprise, I found that I was constantly learning new things from my colleagues and clients – many of which I would have never learned in a classroom or a textbook.  Below are my favorite, top five lessons:

  1. “Sometimes the best interview is one you never give.”  This is one of my all-time favorite pieces of media relations advice from Carol Cookerly. In school, I learned that you should always respond to a reporter’s request for an interview – never say “no comment.” But Carol thought otherwise. She explained that in some situations, especially with issue clients in which there are a lot of unanswered questions and pending investigations,  it’s best to quell the “mediastorm” so the team can gather all the facts and later decide if the client wants to approach the interview or not.
  2. Know when to stop talking.  Before she opened her own PR firm, Carol sold computers.  She said she learned a lot from that experience, and her sales training taught her when and how to close the sale.  If your customer has already agreed to buy the computer, Carol says, you don’t need to keep talking about its unique features and technologies. They’ve already agreed to purchase the product – why are you still trying to convince them? The same is true when engaging a prospect in a new business meeting, or even when speaking to a reporter about a story idea involving your client.  Once the reporter says he or she is interested in the story, stop trying to convince him to write the story.
  3. Knowing when to listen is just as important as asking the right questions.  Although it sounds cliché, listening is a virtue. We work in a business where it’s imperative to have a strong voice and compelling argument, sharp writing skills and strong story ideas. When speaking with clients, ask them questions about how they got to where they are, how they define success and what motivates them. But also take the time to listen to their responses.
  4. Writing will always be critical in public relations.  Even with the rise of social media, texting and bite-sized messages, clear and concise writing will still be paramount. Why? Because good writing matters.  Poor grammar, careless spelling errors and weakly written or formulaic writing will always fall flat in the eyes of the receiver.  We’re in a relationship-driven service business – developing a quality work product will always serve as your own “spokesperson.
  5. The day is better with chocolate cake.   One of our traditions at Cookerly PR is to celebrate staff birthdays with a delicious chocolate cake each month. When it’s Cake Day, we all start salivating the moment the top of the cake box is lifted and the chocolate aroma wafts about. No matter how much work I have at the moment or how bad my day seems to be going, taking a bite of the cake makes everything a little easier.

It’s important to remember: you are never too old, too educated or too successful to stop learning.  Take a moment to reflect on the hundreds of “teaching moments” you experience throughout your career, and realize what you can pass on to other colleagues in your workplace.

What are some of the important lessons you’ve learned along the way?

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