Legends of Public Relations: Gary McCormick

Note from the Editor: The following blog post is one of a four-part “Legends of Public Relations” series on Progressions. All excerpts were originally published in “Legacies from Legends in Public Relations” by The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations in 2007, a booklet which celebrated the 40th anniversary of PRSSA with personal messages for students written by industry legends.

Graphic by Ben Butler
Graphic by Ben Butler

Gary McCormick, APR, Fellow PRSA
Director of Public Relations, Scripps Emerging Network

Career: Responsible for public relations programs and strategies for Scripps two cable channels, DIY Network and Fine Living TV Network. Joined Scripps Howard after 17 years of public relations and public affairs support to a variety of federal government clients. President of the PRSA Foundation and a former member of the PRSA board of directors. Co-chair of the Champions for PRSSA. Recipient of PRSA’s Ferguson Award (2006).

“One of the first things I ask every student who tells me they want to go into public relations is, “Do you have the personality for PR?” In this light, what does it take to be successful at public relations? Here’s my top 10 characteristics for success:

  • Be Creative. In a competitive media marketplace, tried and true is the right way to go for crisis communication and investor relations. The practitioner who can see new opportunities and approaches will be the leader instead of the follower.
  • Be Curious. Questioning how things work and why they’re done that way will serve you well. It helps to understand the inner workings to determine how to do it better, or how to deliver a stronger message that resonates with your objective.
  • Be Competitive. Shy and retiring won’t get you into the best position to promote your client and brand. In business, there are limited opportunities to position yourself within the marketplace, and, unless you understand and are willing to compete, you’re missing out. If you aren’t providing the opportunities, marketing is more than happy to step up and deliver the message.
  • Be a Storyteller. People remember the facts better and react more favorably to a story than to lists. The human element of any issue also is more compelling than the financial. Focus your public relations on the story, and, more often than not, you’ll find success.
  • Build a Network. A public relations professional is only as good as his/her contacts–media, vendors and peers. Sitting in an office won’t get you where you need to be if you want to impact your business. Reach out, find a mentor and become a part of the community, the industry and the profession. Every person you meet provides unique experiences and additional expertise. Remember, too, that giving brings greater returns, so you should always be looking to help others before you can expect them to help you.
  • Be a Complete Communicator. While it’s widely accepted that writing is an essential skill, don’t underestimate the value of being a good speaker and using visuals/pictures to convey your message. Use every tool in your toolkit to communicate.
  • Put Ethics First. Protect your reputation, which is the biggest asset any professional has. Adhering to the highest ethical standards will have better returns on your career than any educational degree or client campaign. Without it, you may no longer be in business.
  • Look/Listen/Learn. Much of what makes a successful practitioner is the ability to evaluate interactions and relationships to identify what’s not being said. Many times it’s who is not talking and why, or who is not interacting with whom and why, that makes the difference. To manage relationships and affect change, the biggest job is sometimes the research and background to explain how and why a problem has arisen. Otherwise, you run the risk of “misdiagnosing” the problem.
  • Avoid Ethnocentricity. Viewing other cultures or interactions from the perspective of your own heritage limits the diversity of ideas and opinions that elevate our ability to better communicate and enhance change. Diversity is not about representation, but more about understanding how each of us filters and interprets based upon our own experiences and values. By attempting to limit judgment and allow for understanding alternative perceptions and preferences, a practitioner can better serve a company or client and communicate more effectively.
  • Embrace Change. Become a change agent, supporting and understanding the challenges of change within an organization. Most people are uncomfortable with change, but our profession is based on helping people change actions, attitudes, opinions or beliefs. In this rapidly changing marketplace, the one leading the change will be the true public relations professional.”

Gary McCormick

1 thought on “Legends of Public Relations: Gary McCormick

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      I’ve met Gary numerous times over the past several years, and have had the pleasure of sitting on a PR pro panel with him (at past PRSSA regional conference in Nashville). He is the consummate professional and is always ready to offer advice. Great post!

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