The Lost Art of Humility in PR

Ask yourself this: Are you an “expert” at anything? Have you really taken the time necessary to completely master a skill, job or even just a hobby? Think long, hard and be honest. 

My guess is no.

We hear the words, “expert,” “guru,” “jedi” and “ninja” thrown around like ego-infused projectiles day in and day out in the PR and marketing sphere. To be completely honest, it drives me nuts.

Here’s why – 99% of the people, who call themselves experts or gurus are just doing it to inflate their own egos and make themselves feel good and sound more important. I’ve seen people call themselves “branding experts,” “social media gurus” and “marketing ninjas,” to name a few ridiculous terms. These are overly broad and over-arching titles that actually convey the opposite of what the person was going for, since it’s downright impossible to know everything about social media, PR and marketing. You can know a heck of a lot, but “everything” is a far stretch.

Instead of throwing out big important-sounding job titles, why don’t we actually focus on the work that people do and the art of listening and genuinely being interested in those around you.

Humility is a lost art in the fast-paced, ego-driven, dog-eat-dog world of PR. There’s a time and a place for mild bragging, such as when you are in the hunt for a raise or vying for a big client. But most of the time, it means a lot more to just sit down, listen and help the people around you.

I’m a big believer in karma. If you are the jackass, who only talks about numero uno, and doesn’t take any interest in anyone else around you, it will come back and haunt you in the future. PR, at it’s root, is all about relationship-building. Alienating people with your arrogant behavior and demeanor is going to rub people the wrong way. This will kill your reputation.

So, the next time you are at a networking event, meeting or a cocktail party, instead of bragging about your “expertise,” consider being a bit more humble and taking the time to really listen, ask questions and help those around you. If the warm and fuzzy feelings you get after leaving the event aren’t satisfying enough, then by all means go back to your old ways. But, I really think your newfound humility will feel great. It will pay off big time in the long run- both for your personal happiness and career growth as a PR professional.

Jessica Malnik is a PR/marketing assistant, social media specialist, videographer and avid blogger.  Visit her blog for social media, technology, public relations and marketing ramblings

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  • Raquel Cortazar

    Completely agree Jessica, thanks for sharing what most of us think 🙂

    Raquel Cortázar

  • Yes, that is true. Even people whose life is dedicated to a sector is not a expert in it, as nothing is completed invented in this world, or we just dont know the edge of a field.

  • I understand your point, there are a lot of people out there with titles like “guru” and “expert” and it is frustrating, mostly because the people who call themselves that are nowhere near expert-level. But when did “expert” mean that you have to know everything? Doesn’t it mean that you are a “specialist” (as noted in your title) or that you derive your expertise from prior training and experience?

    Yet, for someone else to introduce you as an expert is a great compliment, and I doubt they are saying it because they can’t think of a better word. When you boss introduces you to clients and says that you are their social media expert, are you embarrassed or happy that he/she looks at you in that way? Would you tell your boss to never call you an “expert” at anything because it sounds like you are bragging? So yes, this post is about calling oneself an “expert,” but don’t low-ball yourself if that’s what you are. “Ninja” is stupid, but “expert” is not.

    • Anonymous

      That’s a great point, Sara. Introducing yourself as an “expert,” or “ninja” is a bit arrogant. However, if a colleague introduces you as an “expert,” it’s a bit different. That should absolutely be considered as a compliment.

      • These are times when I find my thesaurus to be most handy ;] As the knowledge of social media in business becomes more mainstream, better titles will appear.

  • Nice post, Jessica. I agree with Sara Croft, expert can be an complimentary term when you are introduced by a colleague, friend, or even at a panel discussion. Calling yourself an expert in your Twitter bio, blog, etc., isn’t good in my opinion.
    You and I have discussed this before, we are ALWAYS learning.


    • Anonymous

      Exactly, Jason! We are always learning. It’s a big danger sign when you see someone introduce themselves as an expert online or offline. Because, 99% of the time, those people don’t know it all.

      If a colleague or business partner calls you an expert, that’s a different story altogether. By all means, take that as a compliment.

  • Mcraven

    I find this especially interesting because I read a blog post from a PR pro who said essentially the exact opposite about a month ago — but you know the old saying about opinions and everybody having one…. While I definitely think that “jedi” and “ninja” are a bit corny and gimmicky in most situations, I would (gently) push back on not using the term “expert.” An expert is someone who is knowledgeable about a particular field; someone who is skilled or trained in a particular area. Why wouldn’t I want to be known as knowledgeable or well-trained? Why would someone hire me or rely on me me if I’m not? I agree that humility and good listening skills are critical to anyone working in communications, but I don’t know that a client or boss would find them particularly reassuring.

    I totally agree with you that someone who started up their Twitter account last week shouldn’t go around calling themselves a “Twitter guru.” But if you’ve got training, experience and expertise, why not call yourself what you are? Full disclaimer: part of this is coming from the feminist side of me, which sees so many women not getting — or giving themselves — the credit and props they deserve. If you don’t say it or believe it, who will?

    • I believe you are correct. There are so many advantages in calling our self as a expert in something. Probably in this case, we can go ahead and call the same.

  • Pingback: You’re Not A Social Media Guru—You’re A Social Media Critic | Doktor Spinn()

  • thank you for information.