Five PR Skills I Learned as a Bartender

I work in public relations.

*ducks and covers*

If the writers and journalists of Medium are still reading, hopefully I’ll convince you that not all PR pros are spin artists and spammers.

I didn’t walk right into the industry. Fresh out of college at the height of a recession, I took a two-week “mixologist” course and cut my teeth as a freelance drink slinger as I looked for jobs. From that course and while working at bars, clubs, stadiums and various gala events, I picked up professional skills that have served my career better than any internship.

Here’s five of the most applicable to my colleagues in the public relations space:

  1. Responsiveness

I still have nightmares of an angry crowd of cash-in-hand bar patrons demanding my attention. After trauma like that, no amount of client or manager pressure will faze you.

Aside from pitching timely and relevant stories, the next best way to build a rapport with media is through a consistently fast response time. These people are busy. The quicker you can respond to interview requests, fact checks and the like, the more you’re demonstrating value. Being useful is important because editors, journalists and bloggers don’t need you as much as you think they do.

2. Attention to Detail

After passing a written exam and becoming certified to serve alcohol, the final test at bartending school was a practical exam. Twelve random and unknown drink orders, delivered by the instructor to one student, to be served in less than six minutes and with fewer than three mistakes (incorrect ingredients, putting ice in the glass when it was requested “neat”, things like that). That last requirement always trips people up.

Keep in mind that as a PR pro you are the voice of a corporate entity. Unclear or extraneous wording, poor editing and misleading information are surefire ways to cause some client heartburn. When pitching, commit to researching your target’s beat, writing style and editorial schedule. Be precise — it will pay off in the long run.

3. Efficiency

The first rule of bartending is to not talk about bartending. Just kidding, it’s to never have one hand empty. You’ve got two of them. If one’s not holding a glass or a liquor bottle, it can be wiping the bar, taking a credit card or grabbing a garnish. You can’t have speed and accuracy without efficiency.

The same goes for public relations. We wear a lot of hats — especially if you’re at an agency — and have to consistently cycle through clients and tasks. Managing your time efficiently is critical. Personally I’m a fan of the 80-20 rule when pitching — spend 80% of your time going after the top 20% of your desired outlets. Do what works best for you: break your day into chunks, make to-do lists, use Post-It notes, etc. Keep the ball moving forward and leave room for the unexpected.

4. Relationship Management

It’s so much easier to maintain a trusted relationship with an editorial gatekeeper rather than to cold call one. As you build a circle of close contacts, it can be tempting to get a bit greedy and try to push a square peg into a round hole. You’ll feel pressure either in house or from clients to squeeze everything you can from a contact regardless of fit.

Client: “Hey, this outlet ran with A and B, tell them more about X, Y and Z”

Don’t take the bait or you could burn a bridge for losing your value as a resource. This comes back to managing the relationship with your clients — revealing too many of your practices or over-promising results can come back to bite you.

How does this relate back to bartending? The best bartenders are the ones you find in neighborhood dives and speakeasies. They get to know you a bit, learn your tastes and offer up a drink that suits you. Try to be like that.

5. Creative Problem Solving

Rarely do nights behind the bar go off without a hitch. A keg is kicked, the credit card machine goes offline or Jon Taffer is screaming in your ear to “SHUT IT DOWN!”

Fortunately Jon has taught us not to embrace excuses, but rather, solutions. You have to be able to improvise and adapt with loud music and a sore back distracting you.

Public relations is oftentimes associated with crisis management — and it may be where we truly earn that retainer. But creative thinking and problem solving comes into play almost every day for PR pros. You have fixed variables (budget, time, goals) that need to be processed into theme pitches, campaigns or events that resonate.

It’s a fast-paced career choice that can push you to the edge at times. If the PR industry isn’t for you, there may be a job waiting behind the bar.

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