A PR Story – An Interview with LSPR’s Senior Trainer
Public Relations has become so prominent in today’s society that there is no place where it doesn’t exist. A good PR team can be brought together with training, influencing your company’s reputation and even the reputation of an individual. Susan Croft, PR specialist and Senior Trainer at LSPR, is here to tell us about her journey through the industry and the changes within it.
Q. Susan Croft – can you provide us with a snapshot of your professional journey into the world of PR to where you are today?
Following University, I studied Journalism with the National Council for the Training of Journalists and then joined a London newspaper. I soon realized that I would not be snapped up by Fleet Street anytime soon, so I applied for a PR Executive position with a major UK computer company.
Fortunately, I got the job and after two years I was posted to New York to run their communications programme in the Americas. This was definitely my lucky break!
After two years in Manhattan, I took the leap westwards and ended up in Los Angeles where I started my own PR agency – this was during the great growth years of Silicon Valley. Seven years later I sold the firm to a leading US agency and moved to Northern California where I ran their San Jose office. In 1989 I was ready to move back to London and took a position with Hill & Knowlton. I worked with H&K for 14 years both in London and New York. During this period, I got interested in PR/marketing training and have been doing this ever since I left H&K in 2003.
Q. Have you seen changes in the industry?
Absolutely! I think PR has become more professional and accountable. It’s almost as if we have grown up over the past 25 years and now garner much more respect. PR has also become more strategic and able to claim a seat at the top management table. I think some of the larger agencies (Hill & Knowlton or Burson for example) are giving the top consultancies a run for their money.
Q. What have been the main changes, personally, for you?
I think it’s being proud to say that I am a PR professional. I remember when I first started in the industry and I mentioned my job, people would say, ‘Oh, you must be good at putting on parties!’ or some such other rubbish. Because PR has evolved to become more strategic, it’s no longer about writing press releases and putting on media events (although, of course that’s still part of the role).
Q. Have things specifically changed for women?
Although it seems hackneyed to say, there really are more opportunities for women. When I first started working in the 1970s women held mostly the lower level jobs. Now women are running the top PR firms, starting their own businesses and having a major voice in politics, academia and other areas. But there are still gaps and we need to keep pushing through that ceiling. It’s a thinner glass now though.
Q. What are the key skills needed to succeed in PR?
I’m glad you asked me this as so often I hear that the only skill we need is ‘getting on with people’ and the ‘right personality’. But you need a lot of other skills as well: Management (both projects and people), excellent written and verbal communications; understanding of finance and budgeting; and a wide array of technical skills including use of digital marketing and social media.
Q. What were your main strengths that took you to succeed to the top level of PR?
I think tenacity and the ability to bounce back after setbacks was one. Plus, a thorough understanding of how businesses operate, the ability to hire the right people and run successful teams. Strong influencing and communication skills also helped, particularly when winning new business.
Q. You started training for LSPR from when it was first established in the early 1990s – how did that come about?
I was working for Hill & Knowlton in London at the time and John Dalton (founder and director of LSPR) approached the firm and asked if they could recommend someone who could teach PR for the new school he was opening. My name was suggested and the rest is history. Can’t believe it has been over 20 years!
Q. How has LSPR developed with time in line with changes in the industry?
I have seen incredible growth and development at the school. We now teach branding, social media, communications strategy, digital marketing and the like – all subjects that were not even considered when the school was first founded in the early 1990s. Also, the flexibility of training to include daytime courses as well as evening, plus seminars and coaching. The profile of students has also changed with many more coming from overseas which makes it a much more cultural enriching learning environment.
Q. What attracted you to move into training and consultancy?
To be honest, I think I got burned out with PR. I had been in the industry for close to 25 years and felt it was time for a change. I had acquired a lot of knowledge along the years and was ready to share that with others. I also felt inspired to make more of a contribution to people’s learning journeys. I must say that I find training enormously satisfying.
Q. As an experienced and successful PR professional what words of advice will you give someone starting their career in PR?
- Treat every day as a new learning opportunity
- Try to get experience in-house and with an agency during your career
- Take a course in business and finance basics
- Don’t be afraid to speak up in meetings
- Take prudent risks
- Build a portfolio of skills