A couple years ago I decided to cross something off my bucket list and auditioned for a role in a play. I got it, have gotten several others since, and even had a 10-minute play of my own produced. Heck, I even had to turn down a part recently because my schedule is just too busy (I’m in PR, remember?). The director noted, “I am anxious to work with you in some capacity in the future when the freeway of life is not so congested. I find something rather spectacular about your singular talent. Greedy as I am I would like to tap into a bit of your genius.”
First, flattery will get you everywhere, that's a PR rule to keep in mind!
But how is this possible? I’ve only taken one class in acting in my life, and that was over 20 years ago…and the main reason I took it at the time was to meet women. I met one, and began a 2-year relationship with her…never did finish the class, by the way.
Well, it could be in my DNA. My Dad acted when he was still a teenager and was part of a local theater company called The Coda. He also created his own acting troupe in high school which he dubbed, “The House of Literature.”
It’s a good thing too. Because being a good actor is good skill to have if you want to be effective in public relations.
In my job, I often have to “turn on the charm” to convince doctors and nurses to do interviews. I have to pretend to be happy and exceedingly pleased with the opportunity to handle a reporter’s last minute request even though it’s after 5 p.m. and I’m already late for another appointment.
Like an entertainer, I need to be amusing, engaging, the master of spritely chit-chat to put both interviewer and interviewee at ease, all the while my mind is churning about what’s happening, what’s about to happen, and where I have to be in the next 30 minutes.
Every semester, as I teach my INTRODUCTION TO PUBLIC RELATIONS course at Loyola University, I tell my students that if they want to excel in PR, they might want to consider doing an internship with a media outlet of some kind, like a newspaper (if there are any left; I was especially gratified this past Wednesday when my guest speaker, Baltimore Sun columnist Susan Reimer, made the same recommendation to my students). You learn good writing skills, the ability to think creatively, quickly, and to meet deadlines. But now I want to add something:
Get involved in theater. Take an acting class, audition for a role; chances are, wherever you live, there’s a community theater group somewhere.
Working in theater has helped me hone skills that are quite beneficial in the practice of public relations. You walk into a room with a bunch of people whom, if you’re new to this, chances are you’ve never met before; and by the time the curtain falls for the last time, they’re like family. Acting in a play is a great team-building exercise. You learn to deal with stress, how to improvise, succeed with virtually no budget, and how to “be there” for your colleagues (like when a fellow actor forgets a line and you fill in)—all great ways to describe a PR professional.
Another PR point. I like that the director who had sought me out for the role took the time to followup with me and gave me positive feedback. It’s why when you were a kid, your mom, grandmother or some respected family authority figure encouraged you to write thank you notes. It’s important to make people feel good about themselves and it’s a classy thing to do, to show appreciation, even if the answer you had to deliver wasn’t what was expected or hoped for. That’s important because in public relations, and business in general, it is not a good idea “burn bridges,” which can sometimes catch fire just by ignoring them if you know what I mean. And that’s one to grow on…