What’s the Most Important Quality in a PR Professional?

What do you look for when looking for a PR consultant or agency? Most of us would imagine that we would want expertise in our area of work (technology, consumer products, hospitality, etc.). As a PR practitioner, that has always been what I believed companies were looking for when they hired. When reading about what a potential client would be looking for, information suggests that your area of expertise is high on the list. In this article on StartupNation, Beth Bryant, of the Public Relations Society of America’s Boston chapter talks about the importance of industry expertise. Not only is it key for your PR practitioner to have command of your company’s subject knowledge, but solid relationships with media of interest is also highly valuable.

This is why I was surprised when I recently attended a forum presented by my PR group in San Francisco, the PR Divas, where a panel of professionals discussed what they looked for when they hired a PR consultant/agency. Their top concern was not industry expertise, but trust.

Trust? This trumps industry expertise and results? Now that I think about it, it makes sense to me that clients would value honest feedback, even if it isn’t positive. They want to know what’s going wrong when campaigns aren’t working out, and why the media doesn’t love their story. The four women in the panel each explained that while industry expertise was a plus, it wasn’t THE deciding factor for them. More important was a connection with a sincere individual whose track record proved they would work hard and get results, while being upfront and straightforward. The women all admitted to being more likely to hire people they have worked with before or have past business relationships with. The paramount concern for them was to work with someone who would not only be successful, but also had a good working chemistry with them.

Understanding this makes me feel like I might take a slightly different approach to new business pitches. Although each client will vary on what they are looking for when hiring PR pros, it’s interesting that all four women on this panel valued trust above industry expertise.

Do you think a panel of men or a mixed panel would have different results? What’s your top qualifier when hiring a public relations consultant/agency?

Lisette Rauwendaal can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @lisette.