How to become a PR professional without opening a textbook
Here’s a step-by-step guide that has served me reasonably well. No tuition fees, no monogrammed leisurewear collection. Other methods are available.
Buy an old Rupert Bear Annual. The structure of a page of a Rupert Bear annual will tell you everything you need to know about creating work that will fly on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Vine, tabloids, broadsheets, broadcast and news sites. Trust me: it’s the best fiver you’ll ever spend in Oxfam Books.
Read Clive James – The Crystal Bucket. This is one of the compendia of his TV criticism columns for the Observer. For this alone, he should have won the Nobel Prize for Physics in Literature, often bending the laws in a short line. He described young Arnold Schwarzenegger as a ‘brown condom stuffed with walnuts’ and likened Barbara Cartland to two crows smashing into the white cliffs of Dover.
Read unfilmable books by American authors. These books contain the best words and the best ideas. A great American sentence is a journey: a piece of bonsai tourism. Start with Richard Ford, Annie Proulx, Richard Yates….
Read poetry. Find something contemporary. Visit Waterstone’s and have a rummage. Find something that has an idea that sparkles. Carol Anne Duffy is a great place to start.
Read The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia. I go on and on about this book. The central hypothesis is that you have know pain to know pleasure and vice versa. It helps train the mind to make silk purses.
Go and look at Flemish mediaeval and Renaissance art. This sounds a bit pretentious, but go take a look at Breughel’s Icarus. Find Icarus in the painting. It’s all about finding the fascinating in the everyday.
Buy the People’s Almanac Volume 2. You’ll get a copy on Amazon or at AbeBooks. It’s out of print. This was the best bits of the Internet written in the 1970s. It is fantastic. Read it from cover to cover and then read it again.
Get bored. Set out to do this. I was lucky enough to grow up without a smartphone or the Internet. Do this as often as you can.
Find a boss that is a human safety net and a keen gambler. Making mistakes is really important. You will be better for it. Obviously don’t go and do something that will destroy reputations, but there are plenty of opportunities to make mistakes with limited consequences. In Silicon Valley, VCs seek out executives that have failed. Failure is the world’s greatest teacher.
Go and work for a relatively boring business and change that. Don’t try and get a job with a household name. Join a company where you can make a profound difference.
Keep a notebook. I stumble upon maybe 10 or 15 things a day that I’m fascinated by. They’re often like flashes of magnesium strip and it is important to make a note or you’ll forget them.
Watch the films that critics scorn. It doesn’t matter what they are. I devour action movies, especially from the seventies and eighties. Bad dialogue develops deep cultural resonances.
Take three random objects per day and find a connection between them. Give it a go. It’s one of my enduring daily disciplines. Push ups for PR professionals.
Be fascinated by things and people. Read news, read tabloids, read the notice board in newsagents, look up in the street, Google the history of the street you work in, do that Google search again with the word ‘unusual’ in front of it, listen to people and ask, ask, ask.