Lessons from Behind the Bar: 5 Things I Learned in Bartending that I use in PR

Ashley Waters


Image by Dtiet used under CC license.

Years before I stepped into the role of PR professional I spent my nights behind the bar slinging drinks. While I believe that everyone should work in the service industry at some point in their lives, I never thought I would learn so many lessons that would be applicable to my career in PR. Below are the top five things I learned behind the bar that I use every day behind a desk.

Personalization is important to avoid creating the same drink (or message) for everyone

When crafting a cocktail you need to make sure you tweak it to that customers specific wants. There is a reason that a martini order has a lot of elements: gin, vodka, up, rocks, dirty, dry, twist, shaken, stirred. It’s the same when it comes to drafting a pitch - fine-tune your message depending on the reporter. Take the time to read what the journalist has written, figure out what they are interested in, and change your angle to appeal to their personal style and opinion on the topic at hand. Tailoring a pitch to a reporter based on their beat is just as important as adjusting a drink to a customers tastes. When bartending you risk having a drink sent back or not being tipped if it’s made wrong – in PR you risk a writer passing on a story or not answering you at all.

Sometimes you need to turn on the charm

Everything goes smoother with a smile! You will run into curmudgeons everywhere in life – and when you are depending on them for tips or need to work with them because they are in a top tier media outlet, the ability to keep them happy will serve you well. Learning how to deal with difficult people will help you get far in life in general – and doubly so in PR when you are balancing the needs and egos of reporters and clients. If you can learn to talk to anyone, and know how to turn on the charm, your desired results will come much easier.

Teamwork leads to better results

Behind the bar you lean on your “bartners” all night. Trusting that they can handle a crowd, chat with patrons as well as you can, change a keg and make six margaritas as fast as you can is vital to your success. You’re sharing tips after all! It’s the same in PR. You need to lean on your teammates and co-workers because the end result is most important and everyone has the same priority. Whether that means being comfortable offering help when you see someone becoming overwhelmed, or not being too proud to ask for a hand yourself, working together will lead to more success.  This also extends to resources: being competitive with coverage or selfish with your contacts is only going to hurt the client – and your team’s reputation - in the end.

Multi-tasking is key

All bartenders can pour a beer, but only the best bartenders can make a cocktail, calculate a total, figure out who’s next to be served, and tell the bar back what you’re low on at the same time. Multi-tasking and balancing everything that has to get done is necessary in both the service industry and in PR. When you are writing a press release, it’s necessary to focus. But making sure you’re still aware of incoming emails, paying attention to the time incase you have a call scheduled, and not neglecting any of your other to-do items is equally important. Multi-tasking and prioritizing will get you far in any job.

Experience over education

There are some things you only learn on the job. Your formal education can give you a solid foundation to build a career on, but some things must be learned through real-life experiences. Having a degree in public relations doesn’t make you an all-star, just like having a certificate doesn’t make you a mixologist – they both get you to the starting line, but there’s still plenty to learn. This ties back into teamwork: when you’re tackling a new task, don’t worry if you didn’t cover it in a classroom – ask your teammates to show you! Shadow someone on your team who you want to learn from or volunteer to take on a project you haven’t done before – it’s the fastest way to learn.


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