The biggest tip new and aspiring PR pros often get from seasoned pros is that your most valuable lessons are the ones you learn outside the classroom. Even though this traditionally means on-the-job experience, the professional development you invest in and other opportunities you encounter in your post-grad life, you’d be surprised by where inspiration and insight can come from – like your hobbies and interests outside of public relations.
There are two things that I love in life: cooking and communicating. I could, and often do, write for days on end. Twitter is the most used app on my phone. I strongly believe that communicating is one of the most important things a brand can, and should, do; that if your communications are shoddy and lacking, your brand is missing an integral component to its success. Communication should be done strategically, not as part of a hob-knob reactive plan you’ve cobbled together out of sheer desperation or after-the-fact necessity. Communication is, at it’s core, what this blog is all about. Communicating makes the world go ‘round.
Cooking and food, on the other hand, are what brings the world together. Food has been at the core of my whole life. I grew up on a vegetable farm, where I thought it was completely normal to walk into your big backyard and pick parts of dinner right off the plant. My family ate dinner together every night and holidays were always spent in the kitchen and around the table. My first job in high school was waitressing at a local restaurant where I spent every moment I could learning in the kitchen, just because it made me happy. There were a good five or so years after that that I spent eating things from a cafeteria, my microwave or making meals that required little attention or time; all of my time was spent with my nose in a book or fingers glued to my keyboard. Post-grad, though, I’ve found my own love for cooking and begun to understand the impact food, cooking and meals have on bringing people together.
So what could a hobby I’m passionate about teach me that would apply to my completely unrelated career? As it turns out, a lot.
Lesson 1: Patience.
In a world where everyone is always looking for shortcuts, it can be difficult to remember that worthwhile things take time, results being one of them. Sure, I’d love my roast to cook in 15 minutes because I’m hungry now, but that’s not possible. And if it were, I’m sure it would taste like eating a shoe. Expecting instantaneous results from any sort of PR effort is just as foolish. PR programs need time to develop, just like a good meal. Be patient with your efforts and stick with them for a while and you’ll have results
Lesson 2: A recipe is necessary.
There’s nothing more essential to a good communications program than a plan. Without a plan, you’re almost guaranteed to rely solely on reactionary tactics. Being reactive doesn’t give you much to measure and defeats the purpose. But if you have a plan, you’ll have steps, a road map, of where you are, where you want to be and how you plan on getting there. If you wouldn’t step into your kitchen to cook without having an idea of what you were making, why would you do it with your communications?
Lesson 3: Keep track of what works.
After a few years of cooking on my own, I’ve amassed quite a few recipes that I’ve wanted to try. Some of them, like roasted duck that made my house so smokey, I don’t think I’ll be making again. But others, like these perfect chocolate chip cookies I found from America’s Test Kitchen or my absolute favorite mushroom and bacon risotto, are ones I will write carefully in my recipe book until I have them memorized. And I do the same thing when I find tools and trick that work for PR, marketing and communicating. Grasping at straws is the biggest time-suck, so when you find something that works, hold on to it like it’s Willy Wonka’s golden ticket.
Lesson 4: Learn from the pros.
When there are all sorts of resources out there to help you and keep you from stumbling around in the dark, make use of all of them. Take note of what the pros are doing and using and test them out yourself. Some of my favorite meals have been inspired by things I’ve seen on my favorite cooking shows or read in a cookbook, while some of my best PR practices have been things I’ve picked up from mentors and colleagues. It’s important to figure out what works best for you, no matter what you’re trying to accomplish, but there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
Lesson 5: Be flexible.
It’s important to have a plan and to follow some rules, but being rigid is never a good way to be. Sometimes you’ve just got to adjust the plan, whether that’s adjusting your pitching plan or adding something else to your recipe. There’s no one perfect way to do anything in the world, so it would be incredibly unreasonable to think that you shouldn’t, or even worse can’t, be flexible in how you do things.
Lesson 6: Timing is everything.
Whether it’s cooking a meal or planning your content, timing is key. It’s important to be mindful of what else is going on in the world around you. Your brand doesn’t live in a vacuum. With poor timing, even your best content will fall flat, no different than a poorly timely meal would. Be aware of what’s going on around you when planning and adjust accordingly.
Lesson 7: Know when it’s just not working.
Look, you can put all your time and energy into something – be it a challenging recipe or an important campaign – and sometimes it just won’t pan out. It happens. The best thing you can do is know when it’s time to scrap your plans and start anew. Continuing to push forward when you’ve exhausted all possibilities is a waste of time and, quite frankly, frustrating, so don’t be afraid to admit when something’s just not going to happen and readjust your plans to make the best of the situation.