How to grow self-confidence as a PR practitioner

Imposter syndrome – the idea that you might be found out as a fake – is a commonplace feeling among high achievers. The marketing world probably has an above average amount of it because PR is one of those subjects that everyone has an opinion about. This can make practitioners worry about the judgment calls they are making.

So how do you build confidence as a comms practitioner?

Firstly, recognise that you don’t need to a deity to be an outstanding PR pro. Whether in working relationships or trying to deliver a great headline when tired, no one is perfect. But people who never make mistakes achieve nothing.

If you’re worried about whether you are good enough, ironically you’re probably on the right path. This puts you in an advantageous position compared poor performers who are convinced they have nothing new to learn. It’s unlikely that anyone else regards you as an imposter, especially if they have a close view of your abilities and output. The trick is to channel any negative feelings into a hunger to learn.

Secondly, work on building compassion for yourself. It’s OK to be imperfect as this doesn’t need to affect the overall picture. While it’s important to take ownership of mistakes and to learn from them, you don’t need to spend days beating yourself up.

Thirdly, talk to people who are ahead of you in their careers. Although doing this has helped me in countless ways over the past 20 years, two specific examples stand out. The first was when I was in my 20s and struggling to work out what to do next. I was in Brussels and invited to a party hosted by newspaper correspondent. I was definitely the odd one out as everyone was either a newspaper reporter or married to one, but it helped me understand what I needed to do and I soon started working at The Telegraph. The result has positively impacted my work as marketer as I experienced a large-scale digital transformation, and also became much more advanced in copywriting. The second example was when I was in my mid-30s and wanted to become a head of department. I was sitting opposite someone who was describing to me their experiences of doing an MBA, and I thought to myself: I’m going to do one of those, thank you very much – and signing up helped transform my positioning.

Fourthly, read copiously and take part in as much training as you can. Most PR practitioners and marketers don’t study the great practitioners of the past century, such as David Ogilvy, Howard Gossage and Rosser Reeves, or recent research on marketing effectiveness, such as that by Les Binet and Peter Field. They just approach marketing by doing whatever they feel like. The truth is that, with some studying, it’s relatively easy to become a top practitioner.

At the European Academy of Direct and Interactive Marketing in 2012, I saw the legendary copywriter Drayton Bird look around the room and, knowing quite a few of delegates already, commented that it is always the already good marketers who sign up for training. They always want to improve by a few percent.

Fifthly, gain a marketing qualification or certification. This gives you a credential showing your knowledge base and you can remind yourself about it when you’re worried about your status.

Finally, consider having a mentor or accountability partner to talk these things through. I have once had an official mentor – organised for me by the PRCA – who I would meet up with once a month or so. But there are people without formal mentoring roles whose advice I have found to be invaluable.

An accountability partner is on a more equal basis than a mentor-mentee relationship. Here both partners discuss what they want to improve or work towards, and check in for a one-to-one regularly on progress.

You might think you’re the only person around to have feelings of self-doubt, but all good marketers have to work on their confidence at times, and it’s a natural part of the road to high achievement.

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