Thought Leadership

13 Leadership Lessons for PR Pros (Taylor’s Version)

Taylor Swift

Let’s face it. Taylor Swift’s much-anticipated album, The Tortured Poets Department (out April 19), sounds like it should be about a corporate communications team.

While most PR professionals will never win any Grammys, we share more in common with the megastar than you might think. We are creators, storytellers and writers. We find inspiration in life, work and relationships. And we are influential to our teams, across our organizations and in our communities — demonstrating daily how smart, strategic communications can advance your brand, even in times of crisis.

In addition to Swift’s mastery of public relations, have you noticed that her catalog of leadership lessons is almost as extensive as her collection of songs? I curated 13 key Tay-keaways for comms pros — each paired with an album or song — to inspire your leadership style as well as your playlist.

Are you ready for it?

  1. Be authentic.

No one tells it like it is like Swift. Her lyrics are authentic and her connection with fans is genuine, which has built trust and loyalty. As comms leaders, one of our superpowers is the ability to say the hard things with professionalism and confidence. It’s not always easy, but bringing a trusted POV into the trenches is both a privilege and a responsibility. (Album: Speak Now)

  1. Adapt to move forward.

Remember when Swift was a teen country-music star? In the face of an ever-evolving industry, she has successfully reinvented herself repeatedly, just as PR pros have done time and time again. After all, those of us that once faxed press releases are now mastering ChatGPT. Overcoming challenges and adapting to new circumstances are crucial for our growth and relevance. (Song: “Change”)

  1. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

When I attended a concert in her Speak Now World Tour in 2011, I couldn’t believe how everything was choreographed to a T. Every move seemed like second nature, even then. “I wanted to be so over-rehearsed that I could be silly with the fans, and not lose my train of thought,” she told TIME in her “Person of the Year” interview of her Eras Tour. If only all our spokespeople took the same approach! Showing up prepared so you can be personable is a winning philosophy that transcends industries. (Song: “Mastermind”)

  1. Muster grit and courage.

Swift doesn’t back down from a principled fight. From taking back her career by rerecording “Taylor’s Version” of early albums to winning a sexual assault lawsuit with damages of a single symbolic dollar, she has led by example. Big rewards don’t always follow big risks, but doing the right thing never goes out of style — especially during a time of crisis. (Album: Reputation)

  1. Prioritize relationships.

Going out with her girl tribe, collaborating with other artists and flying around the world in time to cheer for Travis Kelce in the Super Bowl are just some of the very public ways Swift shows up to support the most important people in her life. In our high-pressure, fast-paced jobs, there’s always more work to do. However, we shouldn’t miss out on important moments in our lives — or the lives of those we love. (Song: “You Belong with Me”)

  1. Demonstrate resilience.

For Swifties of a certain age, the image of Kanye West interrupting Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 VMAs is unforgettable, but she came back stronger than a 90s trend. How you respond to a reputational issue and bounce back from adversity speak volumes about your leadership. (Song: “Shake It Off”)

  1. Be compelling.

Swift’s songs are never formulaic. Her storytelling is personal and intimate and gives a glimpse of what she’s feeling at the moment. Pitches, interviews and presentations that are humanized are stronger and far more engaging than those that are filled with stats and impersonal soundbites. (Song: “Love Story”)

  1. Show compassion.

When a fan died from heat exhaustion at her concert in Rio de Janeiro last year, Swift met with her family and spoke of her “shattered heart.” After the mass shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs’ victory parade, she donated $100,000 to the family of the woman who was killed. Tragedies occur and crises happen. It speaks volumes about our leadership when we respond quickly and compassionately. (Song: “Bigger Than the Whole Sky”)

  1. Inspire creativity.

Swift has inspired an entire friendship-bracelet culture because of the line in one song. While few can aspire to her level of influencer status, it’s worth asking whether we are motivating our teams to be the best versions of themselves and try new things? (Song: “You’re on Your Own, Kid”)

  1. Support diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.

Though her accomplishments stand on their own, Swift has faced sexism and misogyny throughout her career, from her business dealings to her dating life. Unfortunately, biases exist in the workplace and in the world, but effective strategic communication requires many perspectives. Whether it’s putting new systems in place or amplifying the voices of those not historically heard, we can all stand up for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. (Song: “The Man”)

  1. Give generously.

From giving $100,000 bonuses to truck drivers who made her Eras tour possible to donating to food banks in the cities where she toured, Swift sets an example for us all by doing well and doing good. Whether you choose to make a monetary gift, volunteer your time or provide pro bono communications expertise, our profession has the power to make a positive impact. (Song: “Karma”)

  1. Be self-aware.

We’re all humans, and Swift isn’t afraid to acknowledge her insecurities and mistakes. None of us is perfect, and a little self-reflection can go a long way — especially when it comes to working with and leading teams. (Song: “Anti-Hero”)

  1. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

When Swift swallowed a bug onstage, the memorable concert moment went viral because it was so relatable and because of how she handled it. In our roles we are typically poised and polished in our roles, but not everything will go as planned. When we respond to unexpected situations with humor and grace, it’s always better received. (Album: Fearless)

Katie Neal is vice president of communications and marketing at TimelyCare and president of the PRSA Thoroughbred Chapter in Lexington, Ky. Follow her on X: @katieneal.

[Photo by ashok kumar/tas24/getty images for tas rights management]

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Katie Neal

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