The Best PR Pros Aren’t Experts — They’re Generalists
In his column, When The Rules Don’t Apply, TURNER Vice President Campbell Levy shares advice and inspiration via our Denver outpost.
In a recent column on how to stand out from the pack in a suddenly very hot job market, I encouraged applicants to be “omnivorous.” This wasn’t a dietary recommendation. I was saying: every truly great PR pro needs to have an interest in virtually everything. No topic is out of bounds, no knowledge is out of reach. You don’t necessarily have to be an expert in every area. But being well-rounded is something everyone in our industry should aspire to.
Sports journalist David Epstein has a term that fits here: Generalist. His book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World is all about the advantages of a broad spectrum of experiences and interests. From Charles Darwin to Roger Federer, Epstein makes a convincing argument: “In a world that increasingly incentivizes, even demands, hyperspecialization, we need people who start broad and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives while they progress.” For a great overview, check out this conversation between Epstein and Malcolm Gladwell.
How does this “generalist” concept fit into the PR world? Here’s a pretty standard day for me:
- I’ll spend an hour talking with partners in Wisconsin about a harebrained idea I have to create an inn-to-inn Haute-style route…but accessible 100 percent via human-powered watercraft.
- Then, I’ll hop over to give a writer some details on a bourbon launch, and why it’s notable from my own personal context in a sea of spirits.
- Next, it’s on to a proposal for a new luxury boutique hotel located amidst the wilderness. My directive is to creative experiential packages aimed to immerse guests in nature and do so in novel ways that resonate with media, but also that haven’t ever been done before.
- Then, I’m off to pour over undiscovered (and often un, or mis-mapped) gravel-cycling backroads throughout Nebraska; and then to pivot, and quickly utilize my newfound knowledge to attract a journalist to come ride with me and eventually write a first-person narrative about the people and places along the way.
My eight (or let’s face it, usually considerably more) hours on the clock each day could involve at least twice as many jumps.
Now, I’m not necessarily a “professional expert” in any of these topics (cycling, maybe? And bourbon, hah, sure). But I’ve always made a point of having some knowledge about as much as I possibly can. I’m a generalist — and that serves me well when I need to switch gears at a moment’s notice. Having a broad range of interests and experiences means that I can get into a broad range of conversations, with all kinds of people. And in the end, conversations are what it’s all about in PR. Conversations, and a passion for everything.
Having “range” is a creativity sparker, too. At TURNER, we’re always looking for unique (even unusual) angles and partnerships. Maybe there’s a way to bring together mountain biking in South Carolina with craft spirits? Can we do something with Wisconsin golf and wellness? Brainstorms can get a real shot in the arm when team members have general interests and experiences, driving the conversation in unexpected directions.
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