Journalism, PR, and personality

29 05 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about communications and temperament or personality.

I think I entered public relations toward the end of the era of the traditional career path, when most practitioners had backgrounds in journalism. The profession valued this experience both for the skills one developed in processing information and writing, and because of the relationships one had developed with other journalists. We knew how the media worked, what it valued and demanded, and could provide value and speak the language.

Nearly everyone at Fleishman-Hillard in 1996 had a journalism background, it seemed to me. But that started to change soon afterward. More and more new hires had started directly  in PR or marketing. Their educational backgrounds focused more on business than liberal arts. Many answered the question, “Why do you want to work here,” with the increasingly grating cliche, “I’m a people person.”

Sure, they may have lacked high-level writing skills, but they made up for that with the energy and fresh outlook that was rare among former journalists.

I first learned about the Myers-Briggs personality spectrum well after I had embarked on my journalism career. I was tickled to learn that I was an ISTJ, variously labeled as Examiner, Inspector, Custodian, Reliant, etc. The ISTJ’s reputed “just the facts” personality and tendency toward a rational outlook, value of balance, and sense of fairness seemed ideal for my chosen profession.

But what is the ideal personality for PR? One leaps to assume it involves extroversion. Intuiting seems likely. Feeling over thinking? Perhaps. Perceiving over judging? That seems a good fit, too.

In other words, the opposite of an ISTJ. If you look up ENFP, you find that they are “people people.”

They can be intellectual, serious, all business for a while, but whenever they get the chance, they flip that switch and become CAPTAIN WILDCHILD, the scourge of the swimming pool, ticklers par excellence. 

That sounds like a lot of PR folks I know.

What to make of this? Because I’m now in PR, I take comfort in reading that exact opposites on the M-B scale are highly compatible. I know I have worked very well with some, including my wife. I can recall pitch meetings where the extroverts on our team were going strong, but when I could get a word in, the client seemed to pay extra heed. Maybe it’s reassuring in a room full of people people to hear from a “just the facts” sort.

I’ll try to reassure myself with that thought as I pursue the next chapter in my communications career.