What makes a great publicist?

June 14, 2024

Want to know what makes a great publicist?  Study pigeons for a while and you’ll find out.

I’m currently engaged in a war with pigeons, who have recently decided that my NYC apartment balcony would make a fantastic community center. All day long, pigeons drop by alone or in groups to hang out. If there’s a pigeon travel guide out there, I’m certain that my balcony is a top listing and location coordinates are given. So it’s both a local hangout and a tourist attraction. Lovely.

One good thing has come out of this, however. When at war, it’s wise to study your enemy. And while studying the habits and characteristics of pigeons, I noticed that they have three things in common with great publicists: persistence, resourcefulness, and creativity.

A grey pigeon with a red eye on a blue sky background.

Wanted: Publicist Job. Will work for birdseed.

If you do PR as part or all of your job, you’ll need these three tools in your toolbox.  Here’s how you can take a page from a pigeon’s book to hone these skills.


No matter how many times I chase them away and how many different pigeon-repelling solutions I employ, they keep trying. Sometimes, they even have the stones to land while I’m sitting out there. It’s the very definition of “no fear.”

That is EXACTLY what’s required to be a great publicist. Not to keep hammering away at the same journalist with the same story, but to not get discouraged by rejection, roadblocks, or lack of response. When you have a story to tell, you have to pitch your heart out. If a journalist shows no interest in one story but the client really wants to be in that media outlet, come up with other stories and angles to pitch.  Don’t give up and show no fear.


When I put (safe, humane) anti-pigeon gel on the outer ledge, they started landing on the railing base.  When I put it on the railing base, they started flying over the railing and landing on the tables. When I noticed they usually land on the top railing corners and put stuff there, they started landing in the middle. No matter what roadblocks I threw in their path, they found a way around them.

Second cousin to persistence, resourcefulness is ESSENTIAL for what makes a great publicist. You have to be nimble enough to meet tight deadlines and unusual journalist requests, often under high-pressure conditions. You are not always given the tools, timing, or full details you need… and yet, you still have to find a way to make that story compelling enough to catch a journalist’s interest. And timing is SO important in publicity that you’re constantly shifting moving parts around to be ready in time for that event, that launch, that photo shoot, and that media tour.

Bottom line: every great publicist needs to have a little MacGyver in them.


When I discovered that they were trying to build a nest behind one of my chairs (perhaps the guidebook said rooms were available?), I was surprised at the materials being gathered there. Some twigs, a bit of red string, a plastic straw, an unbent paper clip, a bit of fluff, some crumbled paper… it was all very haphazard and “un-nest like.” But city pigeons are scrappy and they use what’s available to make it work. This makes their nests full of unexpected and creative things.

That level of creativity is what makes a publicist really shine. How do you take that nugget of an idea and turn it into a viable, interesting story? How do you build on this program to make it newsworthy again in year two? How do you make news for a client that has no news? Oh, this idea didn’t work? What’s the next idea…and the one after that? Creativity is the lifeblood of successful public relations. You’ve got to look at a lot of disparate things and see how they can be assimilated to build your nest.

As you can see, these three things – persistence, resourcefulness, and creativity – are codependent. You need all three to work together to bring newsworthy ideas to life and make them attractive to journalists. THAT is what makes a great publicist.

Listen, I have nothing against pigeons in general and wouldn’t mind sharing my space with them if they weren’t such prolific poopers. But I’ve worked as a publicist for more than 30 years, so I am well-matched for this war. These pigeons picked the wrong balcony to stake their claim. They’re going down.

Further related resources:

One small question can lead to BIG ideas.

How to develop creative tourism marketing and PR ideas.

How to steal travel marketing ideas.