5 Lessons Learnt from 20 Years in B2B PR

20 years in B2B PR. I’m not sure I expected to be writing that when I graduated with a degree in International Marketing back in 2001. Although as you’ve probably guessed, my career in this industry began some time before the gown and mortar board.

During school and college years, I eagerly helped out a local PR agency with anything I could – getting my first step on the ladder to help carve out future employment opportunities. I had an industrial placement during my degree and worked within PR during academic holidays…oh and my dissertation examined international PR, so I guess the writing was on the wall!

From starting as a junior account executive to two decades later as the MD of an award-winning B2B tech agency, it’s fair to say that I’ve learnt a lot not just as a communications professional, but as a manager, about running a business and about the industry as a whole.

Here are five things I’ve learnt over the last 20 years…

#1 You don’t have to be a ‘techie’

Yes, it’s B2B tech PR, but you don’t need to be a techie. Having a certain amount of technical knowledge does help, as does an interest in technology, but it’s not a term I would use describe myself.

Throughout the years, I’ve seen and contributed to rather a lot of tech trends which are now a part of our everyday life such as HD television and the cloud. While the technology driving both is complex and sophisticated – the trick for working in the industry is to have an understanding of the nuts and bolts, and features and benefits. That way you can translate those technical concepts for the layman, be it the media, customers or investors.

#2 You need to be customer centric

Service delivery isn’t for everyone. And that’s okay. I’ve seen many people come and go within the world of B2B tech PR and those who ‘go’ are often the ones who simply don’t get a buzz out of service delivery. It’s not a fault or a criticism, they simply prefer to be on the other side of the table.

As a business, everything we do starts with the question…what do our customers want and need? It’s only with that knowledge that we can adapt and change to remain relevant.

#3 Relevance always matters

Talking of relevance, it’s a key element for both businesses and individuals. If I think back to my first days in PR, I used to snatch the press clippings from the fax machine (yes, an actual fax machine), cut them out, mount them and post them off to clients, boasting about the column inches said article achieved.

Rather a lot has changed since then. Buzz words have been and gone and the depth of PR campaigns continues to evolve. It takes desire, time, commitment and determination to remain relevant. As a service provider, our clients look to us to be ahead of the curve in terms of emerging trends and to achieve success. As a communications professional, you need to grab any opportunities you can to learn new skills or ways of working which can help you grow and ideally present commercial opportunities for the business.

#4 Don’t be afraid to specialise

Although success may come more easily if you have a rounded knowledge of PR and integrated communications, you will most likely find an element of the delivery which you particularly enjoy — especially today.

The term ‘PR’ now encompasses so much that it’s harder to be a jack of all PR trades and more likely that you’ll end up being a master of none. Much like it’s a good idea to have a broad understanding of technology, having an overall view of marketing communications and strategy will be necessary for success while you might find a natural desire or skill within one of the specialist delivery skills such as content creation or social media.

Becoming a specialist doesn’t close the door to development and rather opens the door to success and progression.

#5 Relinquish control

Unashamedly, I’m a control freak. Like everything, it has its benefits but also its challenges. I have a process for most things; a certain way I like to do things and I like for things to be done. And for a while, that was it.

But a few years back, I realised my way wasn’t the only way. Only with this recognition can you really allow those around you to flourish, which in turn will support their individual and your collaborative success.

Again, looking at our business, I like to think I can recognise our team members’ strengths and encourage them to play to them. We employ specialists with potential, but that potential will not be reached unless they are allowed to spread their wings and have responsibility. There will be bumps in the road but calculated risks and allowing those around you to support your growth will deliver ultimate success.

And finally…

Looking back at my late teens and early twenties, I know that my eagerness to get a foot in the industry was worth it as were all the hours I put into clipping coverage, fetching coffee and helping with events. As a result, I can’t tout the value of hands-on experience enough.

Yes, a good CV and the relevant qualifications are equally important but having that first-hand knowledge of how an agency operates, the culture, and their expectations, gives you that boost and gives you a definite advantage.

By Suzanne Griffiths, Managing Director