5 Great PR Lessons We Can Learn from Mark Twain

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By Shawn Paul Wood Comment

Time Mark TwainSo, I’m sitting in church this past Sunday when I heard my pastor delve into the Bible discussing how there is nothing we can do to deserve a blessing.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. ~Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)

Whether you believe that or not isn’t the point of this particular story. To echo that sentiment from the Apostle Paul, we were all reminded of the profound words from Mr. Samuel Langhorne Clemens. You may know him as Mark Twain. He penned, “Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.”

And the ‘Amen’ corner shouted.

That’s when this latest edition of “5 Things” hit me: What else can we learn from this beautiful mind? So, I did some research. Here are 5 great PR lessons all flacks can learn from Mark Twain

priority1. Priorities Matter. One of his most commonly repeated quotes is Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.” As hilarious as that is, it begs analysis. How many times does your checklist fill to overflowing within minutes? Sure, you mean to do it, but there’s that one schmuck who likes to schedule meetings about the meetings that need to be scheduled. And your whole list is shot to hell at 9:05 a.m. Every morning, consider what is the most important thing that you must do — and do that. There is such a difference between being busy and being productive. So, maybe the first thing you should is figure that out. Then, do that other thing.

Ignorance Is Bliss2. Embrace Ignorance. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the stupid people in this profession that make a bad name for the rest of us. Ignorance is something else entirely. Mark Twain said, All you need is ignorance and confidence and the success is sure.” Why ignorance? It’s not knowing some of the reporters answer the phone gruffly, “NEWS!” that causes the pitches to get heard. It’s not knowing the only reason some pitches never work is because some flacks are too scared to pick up a phone. Every great thing that has ever happened is because someone was ignorant enough to believe those failed attempts took place because they didn’t know any better. No, they knew better. You just have more confidence.

fear-sucks3. Fear Sucks. Think about it? This is a feeling that can either cripple you from achieving success in this profession, or you can absorb it like a sponge and transform it into fuel. Mark Twain wrote about fear once: Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear — not absence of fear.” You can’t magically make fear of pitching or failure disappear. In this PR life, you will experience both almost daily. Deal with it. Suck it up. And move on. The one person in your office who has all those relationships? Yeah, even he or she is afraid of calling up that reporter because no one likes to hear “No.” Fear shouldn’t stop you to do what your client needs. Ever.

Inside-Out4. Inside … Out! One of Twain’s most famous witticisms is about appearances: It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” I love it when that one big-head in the office thinks the intern or the newly minted account coordinator really doesn’t have anything to offer in a brainstorming meeting, or even with a pitch. Who says the agency lifer has more drive than the journalist who just switched careers? Your experience means nothing — your ability to pitch a great story does. And if you have belief in yourself, and in the story you have to pitch, screw big head and get on the phone. While your outside may fool you, your inside should rule you.

plan ahead5. Plan Ahead. In all my years of PR, I have witnessed one irrefutable fact — the flack that appears to never plan for anything is the one who passionately plans for everything. Been in a business pitch with this person? Every line, every word, every question, every answer — they all have purpose. And why? Because of planning. Ingeniously, Mark Twain said about this, “It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” See what I mean? The one who makes it look easy did all his or her work on the front end. Planning is preparing. And then, comes the winning.