The 2 most important attributes for success

Here’s a seemingly random memory from more than 20 years ago that recently came full circle.

The experience highlights what I believe are the two most important attributes for success in your career.

It started when I was sitting bolt upright in a large hotel meeting room, listening to things I’d never heard before. I was a PR newb attending one of my first PR professional development conferences back in the early 2000s. This guy at the front was weirdly calm considering how many people were crammed in there. The only thing you could hear other than his measured voice was the furious scratching of pens on paper.

He was the PR director for Sears, which was – hard to believe now – then ranked 32nd on the Fortune 500. He was teaching us how to tie our earned media coverage to business results. He had gotten himself access to all their sales data and could run experiments comparing sales in one market to another based on different PR outreach. His rousing conclusion was about a placement on Oprah and phone surveys and using the proof that resulted to justify budget increases. Being the young PR nerd that I was, it was like a budding pop songwriter sitting at the feet of Taylor Swift while she detailed how she composes melodies and conceives lyrics.

I never forgot what I learned in that one session. I kept my handwritten notes for years, and later I incorporated some of his examples (with credit, of course) into the early versions of my media relations workshop.

Fast forward 20 years to the present day – I was working through my emails and opened one that my assistant forwarded that had come into our general inbox from someone I don’t know. It started off:

I regularly read your emails and at one time I was an Inner Circle member. Your information is among the best I’ve seen anywhere when it comes to dealing with the media. I’ve been in public relations for more than 40 years and have not come across anyone who does this better than you. That includes my time as President/Executive Director of the Page Society where the best and most successful public relations executives are members.

And I was like “Whoa, that means a lot. Who is this gentleman . . . Tom Nicholson?” I looked him up on LinkedIn and felt a vague familiarity. Scrolled down and – you knew this was coming – he was “Director Public Relations, Sears” until 2003. And it all came flooding back. I replied and told him I remembered his presentation. Then it was his turn to be flattered, and he sent me the actual PPT deck! I know you think I’m weird, but if he had turned that deck into an NFT and auctioned it, I probably would have paid good money for it. 🙂

Here are the two success attributes this experience highlights:

  • Nobody is better than you: You might be young, or new to the field, or have a particular current limitation. But the people you look up to were once sitting in the same seat you are now. There’s no reason you can’t mix what you learn from them with your own special strengths and create your own successful path. When I was a greenie junior PR manager at a university, I never would have thought that the PR director for a Fortune 50 company would one day write those things about me. But he did.
  • You’re no better than anyone else: Tom had the resume to feel like he knew it all. But he still sought out professional development resources to hone his skills. He recognized that our field is always changing. He even had the humility and ambition to sign up for a membership program led by someone much younger than he is. That same someone who had once been a wide-eyed spectator soaking up his PR wisdom in a large hotel meeting room 20 years ago.

This article was originally published on January 19, 2022

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