I’ve worn many, many hats in my life: historian, professional muse, nanny, party girl, bookseller, (terrible) barista, stage manager, business executive, poet (published!), lowly copywriter, somewhat less lowly marketing consultant, friendly ear, theatre critic and all-around good sport. As a result, I can assure you that I’ve had ample opportunities to find out what makes people tick (and what turns them off—a poorly-made macchiato, for example).
As a communications professional, the most important skill to cultivate is the ability to close a deal. Being able to do this has helped me in every setting, during almost every venture I’ve ever tackled. It’s no secret that you have to be persuasive. A certain amount of luck is involved. A measure of willful blindness always helps when asking anyone for anything. As Han Solo said: “Never tell me the odds!”
Having said that, I’m not going to tell you how to close a deal or how to become more persuasive. There are plenty of books and articles out there already that have perfectly reasonable recommendations for improving in both of these areas. What I’m going to give you are suggestions for becoming the type of person that someone wants to listen to. This is the unspoken “first step” in the process of becoming a good, persuasive closer. Had I recognized many of these things earlier in life, I feel like there would have been a lot more progress and a lot fewer excursions into coffee-ruining.
1. Learn as much about contemporary art as you possibly can, especially the weird stuff. If your audience is the media, or investors, a large cross-section of them will care about this. When I was an undergrad, the greatest thing that ever happened to me was having a professor in an Art Appreciation class who tossed out the regular curriculum in favor of telling us all about the YBAs, Yoko Ono (my personal fave), Barbara Kruger, Marina Abramović and more.
2. Be straightforward. You’ll save yourself a lot of time if you are honest about what your goal is in any interaction. Not only will you save yourself time, but you’ll gain respect. We have this baked-in idea in communications that we need to ease media contacts into things. This is a lie. Journalists know I’m asking them for their time and talents when they get an email from me in their inbox. It’s disrespectful to pretend otherwise. Leave the soft landings and finessing to your consumer-facing interactions.
3. Read science magazines. Did you know that there is proof of the existence of dark matter? Also, this jellyfish is immortal. Public relations is very focused on current events—and for good reason—but I have found that the best writing ideas, the best copy, the best ways to frame pitches and creative briefs often springs from the most unlikely of sources. I’m not suggesting you Marie Kondo your daily newspaper subscriptions yet, but physics is amazing and helpful in forcing you to think outside of the box.
4. Ask for what you want. This one seems pretty basic, but there are so many people in their 20s and 30s whose careers become stagnant because they are afraid to do this. You can’t let fear keep you from putting yourself out there. This principle applies to pitching journalists as well as asking for investments. Just go for it. 99% of the time, the worst thing that will happen is that someone will say “no”—the horror!
There are probably a few other things I could add to this list—don’t be fake, your success (in anything) hinges on being a great salesperson, just because something is expensive doesn’t mean it’s good, etc.—but I’ll leave those for another day.