By Michelle Rash
Last August my daughter, now seven, began taking tae kwon do lessons. She quickly demonstrated a passion and a talent for it, and when her dojang offered parents free trial lessons in May, she persuaded me to give it a try. I will admit, I initially thought I would do free classes and then stop, but I quickly saw why she enjoyed it so much and began taking classes regularly, earning my yellow belt last week (my daughter is now a blue belt).
As I work my way toward a black belt, it has occurred to me that there are several lessons I am learning at tae kwon do that I can apply to my professional life.
Stop and breathe
At the start of every class, we take a moment to meditate. It gives us the opportunity to clear our heads from distractions and focus our minds in preparation for class. And often, during the class, the masters encourage us to take a moment to pause and catch our breath as we prepare for the next task.
In PR, it’s also important that we pause every now and then to refocus our energies. So often we get caught up in dealing with the situation at hand, the “fire drills” of immediate client needs that come with the territory, that we forget to take the time to pause, take a step back, and make sure that we are spending our time and energy on the most important things for our clients and their businesses.
Start with the basics and work your way up
While the ultimate goal of tae kwon do is to achieve a black belt, you have to first learn the basic kicks, blocks and punches.
So it is with PR. It is important that we work with our clients to have the basic “moves” down – such as defining their audiences and determining their key messages – before any advertising or media relations campaign can begin. While we always want to achieve “black belt” results for all of our clients, we first need to guarantee that all of the basic pieces are in place to make the most of our time and energy.
And even once you have mastered some of the more challenging skills, it is important to spend some time back in the basics. Just as a black belt may spend some time focusing on a basic kick or simple punch to make sure it is perfect, we need to remember that, even in this age of businesses looking for the next big thing, sometimes the basic, tried-and-true communications techniques are the best.
Strive for consistency
Tae kwon do takes a lot of practice and preparation. As with other sports, if you miss too many practices, your skills can get rusty and the more you miss, the harder it is to get back into shape. You can’t just attend class once or twice a month, or even once a week, and expect to improve.
Similarly with PR, it’s important to be in front of your audiences consistently and regularly. It takes a constant stream of advertising to be noticed, and more importantly, stay at the top of a potential customer’s mind. And it often takes a steady stream of media relations outreach to be known as the go-to source for a reporter. While not every pitch will hit the mark with every reporter – and not every punch will hit the target with full force – the effort is still key to achieving the results you want.
Set goals and build upon success
The natural goal of tae kwon do is to get a black belt, but there are several milestones along the way – every new skill mastered or belt obtained. Each of these is celebrated, whether by a high-five from a fellow student or at a belt ceremony. Recognizing these achievements and building upon them helps to keep our focus on the larger goal, but also allows us to rejoice in the progress we are making.
So often in PR, our attention is so focused on the long-range goal of our campaigns and our clients, that we fail to recognize the small accomplishments along the way – a great media placement, a response from a key reporter, reaching a milestone in developing a new website, or even some anecdotal evidence that the work we are doing is paying off. We need to take time to rejoice in the little victories, at least for a few minutes, to help keep us energized and motivated for our bigger goals.
Pay attention to the competition and think about your next move
A key piece of tae kwon do is sparring with a competitor – going back and forth looking for an opportunity or a weakness to score a point. While I still have just a little experience with sparring, I know that it’s crucial not just to pay attention to what your opponent is doing, but also to think ahead to your next move and determine the best strategy to win the match.
While the fights are not as clear cut and obvious as a sparring match, in PR it is critical that we keep an eye on our clients’ competition and industry trends. This helps us look for opportunities to differentiate our clients from others in their field and play up their strengths. We also need to always be thinking ahead to our next move and figuring out the best way to give our clients an edge or finding the next opportunity to get them in front of their target audience.
Whether it’s the thrill of landing a hard-to-get interview with a key publication, seeing a new website go live after months of work, or the stress relief that comes from a great workout at the end of a hectic day, I get the same adrenalin rush and sense of accomplishment from both my professional life and new-found hobby. And that thrill, that joy, is what makes all the hard work worthwhile.