“Meet the living legends of public relations:” Fred Cook and Peter Debrency

Sunday began with a keynote panel, “Meet the living legends of public relations.” The panel featured Fred Cook and Peter Debrency. Cook is the CEO and President of GolinHarris. Debrency is the former Vice President of Corporate Relations at Allstate Insurance and is now a consultant at Gagen MacDonald. The two discussed the things they learned through their years of experience in the PR field.On how to stand out in the application process and beyond:

  • Don’t miss opportunities to make an impression. “You’ve got to get noticed. Get out and get to know people running the office. Let them know who you are,” says Cook.
  • Ask people for advice. “If they have time for you, tell them your ideas,” says Cook.
  • “Be reliable,” says Debrency. If your superiors see you as someone they can depend on, they are more likely to promote you.
  • “You need to specialize. Our business has become too complicated to be great at everything,” says Cook.

On overcoming stereotypes:

  • Years of experience do not necessarily make you the best person for the job. “You can get just as much value from somebody starting out, as someone who has been there a long time,” says Cook.
  • Many employers are looking for young professionals to fill positions that require experience in new media practices. “This age dynamic is working big time in your favor. Take advantage of it,” says Cook.
  • Employers look at your life experience, not just your work experience.
  • Bring a unique point of view to the table.
  • Take advantage of the opportunity these stereotypes present.
  • “Be really curious. Be curious about the globe, not just this country,” says Debrency.

On skills for entry level positions:

  • Some weak points in recent graduates include analytics, research, technology and creativity.
  • As every professional tells you, you need write, grammar and spelling skills. These are essential.
  • “I’m looking for someone who can make something happen,” says Debrency. Be able to make positive changes for the organization or the campaign.
  • “Find an organization where there are no barriers,” says Debrency. Always be looking for ways to move up in the industry. Never limit yourself.

On mistakes that PR pros often make:

  • “Do not let your career take over your personal life,” says Debrency. Keep things separate and you will be more productive.
  • Don’t rely on the same old tactics for everything. “You will learn more from trying something new,” says Cook.
  • “As an industry, we’re like Clark Kent. We need to be more like Superman. We need to be bolder,” says Cook.
  • “Don’t take anything for granted. Hone your instincts,” says Debrency.
  • “The advantage of a corporate role is you get to experience the whole organization from the top down,” says Debrency.
  • Add value to your organization. “Wherever you go, bring new ideas and new understanding,” says Debrency.
  • “I’d like you to teach me something I don’t know,”  says Cook. Most CEOs are just regular people and they’re happy to listen if you have something to say.

On the future of the industry:

  • “Long term relationships will drive the future of public relations,” says Debrency.
  • “The future is all about change,” says Cook. And the industry is changing at an increasingly rapid rate.

With so many years of experience, the panel had a lot of knowledge of the industry and great advice to offer for the future pros in the audience.

This post is the fifth in a series from the 2012 PRSSA National Conference. Be sure to read my previous post about the ten essentials for all PR professionals.

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