If you want to get noticed by the boss’s boss or get headhunted for a sexy new job with your dream company, what is going to make you stand out from the 100s of other people out to snaffle exactly the same job?
Marketing yourself as a brand might sound a bit over the top. But being seen and heard in the right places by the right people is rarely going to do any harm, and it is worth thinking about how to do your own PR.
In your quest to attract attention, however, there are methods to be avoided, as Walker Media partner Christine Walker recounts. “I remember one annual client dinner party where a junior member of staff was told to make sure he looked after the clients,” she explains. “He ended up disappearing with one of them between courses, and when they came back they had clearly had sex and taken a shower!” There is general agreement that this is taking “servicing the client” a little too far, undoubtedly. What really counts when it comes to raising your profile is how well you do your job.
“Proof that you can do the job is more important than whether you know someone,” says Gill Hollis, joint managing director of recruitment consultancy The Davis Company.
One of the industry’s up and coming stars, Clare Seager, group general manager at Zenith Media, also plays down the old school network. “Having a good understanding of your clients and building a good relationship with the media owners means you get the best for your clients and do better work for them, and that’s what gets you noticed,” she says.
Making the extra effort to understand an area, and promoting your work rather than yourself is the best strategy, according to Kirsti Wilson, director of interactive at MVi. “It’s about good work rather than your smiley face or getting yourself in the papers,” she says.
“When a client spontaneously tells you they think your staff are doing a fantastic job, it really counts,” adds Walker.
Communicating with those above you is important – and that doesn’t mean cornering your boss at the Christmas party and having a whinge about your pay. Walker relates how, at the Media Week Awards, a young woman came up to her at the end of the evening and said: “Ah, the famous Christine Walker. Give me a piece of advice.”
“I told her to keep your friends close and enemies closer,” says Walker. “In an understated fashion, it’s all about people having a clear view of who you are and what you stand for.”
Hollis advises thinking about the broader situation, not just your own. “People who can offer a solution to a problem will be better received,” she says. “That means not being afraid to speak out, making constructive comments and talking to the person with the power to change things, rather than moaning to your colleagues.”
Walker agrees. “I worked out very young that if you were in a meeting the only point in being there was if you had something to say,” she says. “So think about it beforehand, and try to consider it. Always contribute, because that’s how you get remembered.”
A key point to remember is that the media world is a small one as Tim Sutton, chairman of PR company Charles Barker, points out. “Bad-mouthing your employer makes people suspicious,” he says.
In addition it is important not to create an image or reputation for yourself that doesn’t have a bearing on what you are. “If you don’t like going out with the lads, trying to do it will be a disaster,” Sutton says.
You need to be clear too about your reasons for raising your profile. If it is purely for your own glorification there is a danger that you will be seen as all form with no substance. In the end, just like Jeffrey Archer, you will get found out.
“You have got to believe in what you are doing,” says Martin Bowley, chief executive of Carlton Media Sales. “You shouldn’t be doing things just to get noticed, because then you look like an eager prat. You should be doing them because you are a believer in them.”
Phee Farrer Jones director Neil Barnes says people wanting to raise their profile should be wary of exagerating their achievements. “Think of what your audience thinks of as impressive, rather than what you think is,” he says.
If you are a nine-to-five jobs’worth kind of person, that’s fine, but you are unlikely to make much of an impression. Your extra commitment to other activities, whether it is based around the job or not, will be noted.
“Do some charity work or platform speaking,” suggests Bowley. But he warns: “It takes a lot of energy.”
Walker says: “I used to try to write thoughtful comment pieces with the trade journals. But I always ran them through the senior management first. I remember one person who wrote a piece slating a company that she didn’t know was our biggest client in Spain. All hell broke loose.”
Making yourself stand out is key to getting noticed, says Jackie Elliot, chief executive of public relations company Manning Selvage & Lee. She believes it is vital to stand out from the herd. “People are looking for leadership qualities, so they should know that there’s something interesting and different about you.”
One way of doing this is getting involved in a trade association or a committee, and before you know it you’ll be chairing it. “People recognise the time and work you put into things, and want those kind of people on board,” says Elliot.
According to Phee Farrer Jones’ Barnes another good way for senior managers to raise their profile is to contact exhibitions and conference organisers who are on the lookout for speakers.
In addition most of the senior players in the media industry are regulars at dinners and functions, and there seem to be dozens of dining clubs with a select band of people meeting up to have a schmooze and a laugh. It is a way of broadening your outlook and meeting people that you might not otherwise come into contact with. Certainly, in the early years of your career, don’t ever turn an invitation down without a good reason.
There will inevitably be times in your career when you come up against a clique that simply refuses to make space and let you in. Don’t be discouraged by this, as Sutton points out: “Cliques tend to be formed around certain mysterious values. If you can’t get in, you have to ask yourself whether you really want to be there.”
Hollis agrees. “If there is an impenetrable clique, then get out,” she says. “But most companies are not like that because media is a fast-moving and ambitious business that changes quite quickly.”
The most important message is to be yourself, focus on your strengths and don’t be afraid to voice your ideas.