Shut Up and Listen: A PR Manager Finds His Beat
In today’s post, Will Gluckin, PR Manager, shares how taking a step back and listening to those around him helped him find direction on his career path.
I owe my start in PR to a gift for telling stories. But, it wasn’t until my work at GetYourGuide that I realized finding the right stories to tell meant knowing how to listen. As PR Manager at GetYourGuide, it took time for me to find out which stories would make an impact and which stories I would be best at telling. In this post I discuss why I began to listen instead of tell and how taking a step back actually helped me gain more ownership in my role.
Some years ago, I landed in (or fell backwards into) the New York PR agency world fresh out of university, and I started telling stories. I told stories about money; about software; about people; about inventions. I told stories to business press, to trade magazines, to reporters, editors, radio stations, and TV news producers.
A few years into my career, I was in a groove: I knew what I was good at, I felt valued on my teams, and my stories made clients happy. I didn’t often stop to ask how my stories made a difference for businesses, but as long as the clients were happy, I thought I’d done my job well. I felt like I was at the top of my game.
That’s when I decided it was time to take a risk and move to Berlin. I discovered GetYourGuide and got in touch.
Taking the Leap
Throughout the interview process, I was told I would have the opportunity to own a topic immediately and fully, to shape it in the direction I believed in. This ownership was just the challenge I was looking for. So, I took the gig, packed up, and moved to Germany.
At the time, I remember thinking it didn’t matter that I didn’t have much experience with consumer brands, or had never worked with a travel company, or told a single good travel story to a journalist. I liked to travel, I liked telling stories; logically, then, I could tell travel stories. How hard could it be?
Pretty hard, as it turns out.
Early Days at GetYourGuide
Eager to impress, I started firing off pitches to media in my first week at GetYourGuide. I figured I would quickly brainstorm a few story ideas and line up some outlets.
Instead, I was met with mostly silence from journalists who didn’t know me or my company. Had I lost my touch?
Meanwhile, I thought the flat hierarchy and ownership in my newfound in-house life would be a welcome breath of fresh air. Free from never-ending client meetings and redundant team internals, I’d have all the time and mental space I needed to just do what I do best.
But this wasn’t the case. I suddenly felt like the gravity had been switched off on my career path, and I was adrift in space. Left to my own devices, it was difficult to know what I was supposed to be working toward.
Lastly, I felt the pressure of expectations. We hadn’t really had a PR person before, and most of my new coworkers weren’t familiar with my discipline. In my first months, my coworker’s lack of familiarity with PR meant I ended up taking on projects outside of my realm - like writing ad copy - for fear of disappointing them or proving somehow not useful.
It was hard to help them understand my role when I didn’t even have a clear idea of my direction.
A Pause for Self-Reflection
After 6 months in the role, there was much need for self-reflection. So, at the end of 2017, I took a step back and reflected on the work I had done so far and the direction I wanted to pursue.
In my first several months at GYG, I hunted for stories and tried to tell them as soon as I found them. I asked the CEO for his opinions on politics, the VP People on office space trends; I really went around searching for information from everywhere. Although I had lots of stories, I hadn’t really thought about what stories would be the most successful for GYG.
In my planning for 2018, I wanted to hone in on stories that would be particularly meaningful to GetYourGuide’s audience. While we can do PR in any number of ways, I kicked off the new year looking for answers to three questions:
What stories do we most want to tell?
What stories are going to be meaningful and affect change?
Who needs to hear them?
A mentor and friend from my New York PR agency days once told me (over several whiskeys) that if you’re confident, creative and quick-witted, you can make quick progress in a young PR career — but if you want to really go far, you need to listen before you speak, and ask before you tell. So, that’s what I did:
At the beginning of 2018, I stopped telling stories for a second (not always the easiest for PR people). And I started listening to the melody and rhythm of GetYourGuide.
Ear to the Ground
I spent time doing some investigative reporting of my own on GetYourGuide — and not just the public-facing website and app. I listened to those who had been working at GetYourGuide to gain a more nuanced understanding of its culture, people, mission, and customers. I took time to learn how the Recruiting team attracted tech talent from all over the world to Berlin; how our approach to connecting our ticketing systems to those of major attractions like the Sagrada Familia gave us a leg up on the competition, and more.
It became clear through my investigation that our most impactful stories involved travel inspiration. Since we're a marketplace for experiences, there are literally tens of thousands of stories sitting right there on our homepage.
I spoke with many PR consultants who had worked with world-class companies and were well-versed on the inspiration side. Talking with them, I realized telling this type of story isn’t my strength.
My strength lies in corporate communications, like announcing our new office, the recent CTO hiring, and successful funding round. This was my scope and I could be successful within this area, but I needed other people’s perspectives to get into the travel section of Die Welt or Conde Nast Traveler. So, I delegated the inspirational travel content to those who were experienced and talented in this area.
Finding My Beat
My time at GetYourGuide has taught me that instead of trying to handle everything myself, I can best serve the company by being a servant to others and enabling storytelling by those who tell it best. Now, as opposed to taking on stories that don’t fit within my wheelhouse, I find others who can do so and facilitate their process.
Going through this adjustment was not a smooth process, it was hard and it is hard still. I’m still learning to let go, still reminding myself what my skills are and aren’t, that I need to be the one that facilitates, not dictates. The most successful people aren’t waiting to be told what their job is nor are they trying to take over everything. It’s those who know themselves, are honest with their team, about the size and scope of their mission, and what they can do, who have the most success.
Afterall, when you trust others and help them tell stories, you can have an even bigger impact than you could by telling the stories yourself.
Looking back one year later, I don’t have all the answers, and I have even more questions than I did when I started. But that’s a good thing. The story ends when there are no questions left to ask.