Image courtesy of flickr user maryalena

Talent comes second to character in public relations

As an industry, we should pay as much importance to character and behaviour as we do to skills. I’ve always found the motto of Peter Schutz (former Porsche CEO) applicable to all sectors, PR included: “hire character, train skills”.

Anyone can be taught anything, regardless of their inclination towards science or arts subjects. Even I, if I set my mind to do it, I could probably follow in Dr Sue Black’s footsteps (author of Saving Bletchley Park) and become highly proficient in coding and all things IT.

A variety of industry reports – CIPR’s, PRCA’s, PRSA’s and others – constantly highlight the fact that we need ‘talent’. Actually, we don’t – there is a fundamental error with what is being described as ‘talent’: talent is one’s innate ability to do something that comes genuinely easily. Talent is one’s inborn natural ability to be exceptionally good at something.

What the industry is actually qualifying as ‘talent’ is, in fact, ‘skill’ – a learnt ability. We can all become skilled at something, acquiring or developing it after a lot of time and hard work are put in. Do we need many more skilled people in PR? Of course, we do! Can we get them already nicely ‘packed and wrapped, ready to be used for ‘consumption’? Sometimes, yes, generally no.

Skill comes with practice, experience and significant effort – character, behaviour and ethics don’t. My argument to you all is that what we need to be looking for in a new intern, young graduate or experienced professional are, first and foremost, character and behaviour. Everything else comes second.

In PR, our character (set of qualities that make someone or something different from others) allows us to relate easier with one type of client than we’d do with another, and it also allows us to understand unpredictable circumstances far better than others could (new markets, issues, crisis, publics).

Our behaviour, on the other hand, determines the amount of respect, credibility and professional ethics we display in relation to others. The actions or reactions our behaviour gives to others can be fundamental in the way we pitch for work, design campaigns, interact with the media or with the clients’ stakeholders. If our behaviour is not the right one, then the same could be said about our actions.

If one has the right attitude (i.e. character and behaviour), and they are both motivated and adaptable this makes them more open to learning new skills – we can teach those.

Improving one’s attitude is much more complex than improving one’s badly learnt or non-existent skills. Trying to change who someone is as a person is like asking a leopard to change its spots. This is hard to alter because people have to want to change; and without the right attitude, this is unlikely to happen.

Our moral values, psychological drivers, beliefs and interpretation of various ‘fight or flight’ circumstances can be all encompassed in one word: ethics. The landscape we work in, both nationally and internationally, is complex: political and personal agendas, insider information and whistleblowing, issues and crisis, bribery and corruption, corporate manslaughter and risk management.

If we don’t have the right attitude to deal with complex issues and use our moral (behavioural and ethical) compass, the skills we have won’t get us very far. What we should strive for is trust and respect: trust that we know what we’re doing and respect that we have done it appropriately.

We need ethics, character and the right behaviour in Public Relations – we can teach the rest.

Image courtesy of flickr user maryalena

    1. Hi, Rachel, and thank you for your comments

      Cognitive interviewing techniques and a variety of role-play scenarios are generally very successful in gauging one’s character/behavioural alignment with the values of a business/leader.

      Thank you and have a lovely weekend


  1. Great article Ella. Having spent the last few years examining the various skills sets prescribed by PR associations, I came to the same conclusion. Behaviours and attitudes shape our lives and influence our reputation much more than the ever-growing list of skills or abilities we acquire over time. That is why the Global Body of Knowledge project (GBOK) that I led included a set of codified behaviours which our team felt were necessary to practice public relations. The project has now entered a second phase, taking all the lists that we created and attempting to develop a shorter list of capabilities. I hope the ‘ B’ section of the GBOK (behaviours) won’t drop off the new list of capabilities which is now taking shape with consultations around the PR world.

    1. Jean, thank you very much for your comment

      I’m very pleased to hear that B is high on the list to be considered by PR practitioners across the world – GBOK has done and is doing a wonderful work. We can teach all skills – hard, at times impossible, to teach behaviour

      Thank you and have a wonderful weekend


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