Five PR Leadership Skills I Learned From My Cat

 

Five PR Leadership Skills I Learned From My Cat

I’ve been living with cats for most of my adult life and let me tell you, they are the consummate leaders of the house and sometimes of my life.  The first year that Jonny, my current 14-year-old cat, lived with me I hardly knew he existed. He hid from me, played hard-to-get, and really, quite frankly, I thought that he hated me.  At one point I actually said to my sister, “OK I’ll keep him, give him free room and board, but we’ll never bond.”  Well, was I wrong. Fourteen years later he not only holds my heart in his tiny paws, but he has gone on to show me some interesting leadership skills that can be brought to bear on the public relations industry.

Be creative.  I always thought that the manufacturers of cat toys arguably were not cat owners. Why else would they develop some of the least exciting and sometime the largest play things ever?  Just leave it to a cat to find creativity in a small piece of rolled up silver foil, ribbon or a fallen paperclip. Great leaders find creativity in areas that the rest of us mortals may never explore as they go off to turn a problem over in their mind to come up with a creative solution.

Be observant.  Honestly, it fascinates me to see Jonny staring off into space caught up in what, trying to determine the scope of the universe, the distance between Earth and Mars, the square root of 16? Great leaders know how to observe others, to listen to other points of view, and to thereby help to advert conflict, solve marketing problems or to just bring new perspective into an old marketing plan.

Be engaging. Whereas dogs have an in-your-face style of engagement, cats are far more subtle.  They will quietly appear whenever you least expect them, bringing warmth and comfort.  A good leader does likewise, often in the form of a fresh approach, problem-solving guidance or just a warm word of encouragement, “Good job.”

Be an explorer.  Open a door, put down an empty carton, take out a shopping bag, and low and behold, faster than a speeding bullet your cat will be inside exploring the new space, and if you encourage him by putting in your fingers or a small toy, well, you’ve got the beginning of a brand new game.  Well, a great leader does the same. S/he opens new ways of thinking about old problems, brings new challenges into your thought process and helps you to expand your own creative process.

Don’t be judgmental.  A cat doesn’t judge you by your appearance, in fact, if you never put on makeup or shave that beard, your cat won’t care.  A good leader doesn’t judge someone for trying out new ideas or new strategies, doesn’t put someone down for not knowing the next step and never judges a book by its cover, so to speak.  Hiring someone who doesn’t seem to fit your traditional mold can often lead to new out-of-the-box thinking from someone who approaches their tasks with a fresh mind and a new perspective.

 

Defining PR for My Family

Defining PR for My Family

I got my first job in public relations after I married and moved to New York City.  After settling in, my parents invited my husband and I back to Philadelphia for a weekend trip.  Over dinner my proud parents queried, “What exactly is public relations?” something that I learned would become an ongoing query throughout my professional life.

I went on to describe the work I was doing on behalf of Mannington Floors, a manufacturer of hardwood, laminate and vinyl flooring, explaining how I developed media queries (a.k.a. pitch letters) that were sent to target media to try to interest them on developing an article (in print) or segment (in television) on the virtues of hardwood flooring.

I explained that it was my job to compile background information, and in some instances actually write up full length feature articles (content) for consideration by the media for use in their outlet.  My parents nodded knowingly, then asked for examples. The next time I came to visit I came prepared with my media placement book containing all of the articles that I provided to the media and the resultant free placements.

Although they found it a bit confusing to comprehend free media placements in lieu of payment, as in advertising, I thought for sure that after my one hour presentation that they would clearly understand the difference between public relations and advertising: Advertising is paid for and public relations is prayed for. 

The next week an envelope arrived at my office addressed from my father.  When I opened it, there inside was a full page Mannington Floors advertisement from the pages of Good Housekeeping with a little penned note from my father: Keep up the great work. Love Dad.

I realized then and there that this would indeed be a lifetime perception problem; trying to explain the difference between advertising and public relations.  So from then on, whenever I’m in a social situation with new people with whom I have little interest in either networking or engaging with, when queried as to my profession I quickly dismiss them by answering, “Advertising,” to which they usually acknowledge with a knowing nod of the head.  I know that when I answer with “Public relations,” if I wait long enough, the person will invariably turn to me with a puzzling look and query, “So, what exactly is public relations?” And sometimes I’m just not in the mood to try to clarify my profession.

How ironic that public relations, the one profession that helps to improve brand imaging for virtually everything, has failed in its attempts to elevate brand awareness of itself.

 

5 Key Skills for PR Professionals

 

5 Key Skills for PR Professionals

“Why do you want to go into public relations?” I queried.

“Because I’m good with people,” she responded.

I have lost count on the number of times I have heard this response from the uninformed person who acknowledges that she/he wants to pursue a career in public relations.   In order to succeed in the public relations industry, there are several basic skills that must be either honed or acquired. Here is a list of my top five:

Strong writing.  It always surprises me when a newbie is unaware of the need for good writing skills.  In fact, that’s probably the most important skill of all.  Employees have to be able to write to the media (via pitches and queries), write to the clients (status reports and updates) as well as their boss (weekly reports).  A well written media query will garner the attention that clients deserve.

Think like a reporter. I was fortunate to have gotten my first job as a news reporter, but most of those in public relations don’t have that opportunity.  It is a must to not only query the right media, but to read what they write so that you know how to approach them on relevant topics.  If the reporter covers the area of technology, you will surely be embarrassed if you contact her on behalf of your interior designer client.

Confident public speaking.  I can’t emphasize enough the need for students in marketing and public relations to take public speaking courses while in college.  This will prove to be invaluable the first time attending a new business meeting or facing down a client across a conference room.

Know your client’s industry.  I always tell my clients that “We work with you, not for you.” The important differential here is that we know his business as well as if we were actually on staff working for him.  Learn to research the industry whether it’s consumer products, finance or pharmaceuticals…and become an expert in that field.

The ability to just figure it out.  A new project, like learning how to upload a client’s blog to Facebook Instant Article, may seem daunting at first, but once done, will provide a new skill that can be brought on to other tasks.  Take the time to figure it out.  Remember, it’s not brain surgery, and no one will die if done incorrectly.  But if done right, a new skill is added to the resume.

5 PR Agency Fails to Avoid

 

Congratulations, you just hired a new public relations agency and you’re looking forward to moving ahead with a long-lasting and mutually productive relationship.   If you’re not new to the PR agency alliance, then you’ve probably already suffered the slings and arrows of an agency fail.  But if this is your first time at bat, well then I would like to prepare you for what may lie ahead.

In order to enable the most successful partnership there are some pitfalls to avoid.

Unclear goals. Hopefully you have provided clear goals to the PR agency prior to its researching and writing a proposal, and hopefully it has translated those goals into a clear concise strategy with appropriate tactics.  After the hire, it’s important to review your goals with the agency so that appropriate tactics are set and implemented.  There is no point to letting the horse leave the gate if the directions aren’t clear.

Unrealistic budget.  The first question we ask a new client is, “Do you know what your budget is?”  Usually that’s when we see the client’s eyes glaze over as they reply, “I have no idea! That’s what I thought you were here for.”   Some experts recommend using a formula based on a percentage of gross revenue  or projected revenue. For newer companies we might suggest 12 to 20 percent of gross or projected revenue for marketing, from which a portion would be allocated to public relations. For established companies that have been in business for more than five years, the allocation might be between 6 and 12 percent of revenue. However, sometimes the resultant budget is a combination of what the client can afford and what the agency believes it will need to execute attainable results. In this case, I advise the brands not to be penny wise and pound foolish.

Inability to predict trouble before it happens.  Sometimes a good public relations agency has to function as a soothsayer, seeing into the future and anticipating small problems before they develop into big trouble. Start by looking for red flags like the client chronically being late in reviewing needed materials or an agency team member’s failure to report an early problem, and thereby nip it in the bud. Small failures like these, multiplied over time, can be a ticking time bomb.

Failure to properly staff.  On the brand side it is imperative that there is one direct agency report rather than layers. This will cut down on delays and also help to create that vital agency/client smooth working relationship. On the agency side, we have to be able to evaluate the brand’s needs and staff accordingly.  If the brand is social media intensive, we have to make sure that our staffing reflects this expertise. And if the brand is content driven, we must assure that staffers with writing skills are on the job.

No surprises.  Years ago I won the Best Foods® brand after their current agency surprised them with a $35,000 charge to charter a private plane in order to get their spokesperson to his destination in a timely manner.  The only problem with that was that the agency didn’t ask the client for approval ahead of time; they were immediately fired. Now mind you, that was a big whoops.  But even small ones can lead to not only distrust, but to disaster.