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I frequently receive calls from young public relations executives about their frustration with clients and colleagues who treat them as a kid sister, daughter or possible date rather than an associate who is responsible for moving forward major account initiatives. Highly-capable young professionals are often given tremendous responsibility to help agencies achieve client objectives in this lightning fast paced industry. Managing the pressure and high demands of associates and clients can sometimes be overwhelming for even the most seasoned professional. For a young professional, these pressures are often paired with the challenge of being taken seriously as an intelligent and responsible member of the team.
Following are ways to gain the respect and attention of even the most challenging clients and colleagues:
- Dress like a grown-up. Yes, you might be broke, but you can still find affordable well-fitting suits and classic styles rather than overly trendy frocks. Understand your client’s culture and dress like they do, even if your agency environment is more casual. This goes for hair and makeup too. Spend a little extra time to ensure your appearance is neat and professional Think sleek vs. sexy. Check out how female CEO’s dress and work to emulate those whose style you admire.
- Keep the casual office banter to a minimum. Yes, clients and colleagues may wish to engage you in gossip, jokes and workplace humor, however, maintaining a more serious demeanor (i.e. avoid the giggles) will earn you respect. Be pleasant to colleagues and clients, but your goal should be to earn their respect, not friendship. Keeping the line clear will help you adjust your personality and behavior accordingly.
- Work on your tone, grammar and overall rhetoric. Do you speak too softly? Do you have a high-pitched voice? Do you have Snookie’s Jersey Shore accent? Do you overly use the words “like,” “you know,” “random,” “whatever.” You may not be aware of speech patterns or grammatical errors that distract from your professionalism. Use strong action words vs. those which appear emotional of vague (don’t say “I think this might be a good idea” do say: “this idea will have an immediate impact on your site traffic.” Have a trusted friend help you identify unnecessary or overused words that pop up in your everyday conversations and work on eliminating them and replacing them with words that will encourage your clients to listen.
- Avoid becoming an office cliché. Don’t drink too much at office functions, don’t talk about your personal life, don’t date colleagues or clients, keep your desk area tidy and organized, limit social media surfing to work-related business, don’t text while at work, clean up social media content and privacy settings, always be on time and don’t EVER cry at work.
- Arm yourself with knowledge. Take the extra time to understand your client, their business and communication objectives and the target audiences. Read industry and business publications, stay abreast of current events (NOT just pop-culture). By consuming a variety of information sources, you’ll find you can contribute to conversations with confidence.
- Don’t always say yes. Ask questions and challenge client thinking. When your client demands a cover story on The Wall Street Journal, ask questions. What is the purpose of this coverage? How much access to their organization and its executives are they willing to give? Do they understand the story must be an exclusive? Which of their target audiences do they want to reach via this outlet? Be prepared to give a sound rationale regarding how you might better help the client achieve their goals.
- Showcase your value and proactivity. Anticipate client expectations and issues. Be ready with a few scenarios to better manage expectations and ensure resources are allocated accordingly. If you can justify why and how your idea will help benefit your client, prepare and present your proposal or recommendation.
- Preempt. Don’t always ask for permission to pursue an initiative or idea. Taking calculated and confident risks is a trait of any great leader.
- Be your own public relations agent. Don’t assume your bosses and clients know you are driving serious business results. Communicate your successes. Send a quick email when you surpass project goals to bosses and clients alike.
- Don’t’ be afraid to share the accolades. Publicly congratulating (in writing) a client or colleague on a job well done builds goodwill and shows your team building and leadership abilities.
Embrace your youth as an asset and proudly showcase your energy, ideas and abilities as a professional. Display your poise, intelligence, confidence and work-ethic and you will earn respect. You must act like a leader to become a leader.