So I had been working in public relations so about a year when my parents asked me, “What exactly is public relations? Is it like advertising?” If your parents or spouse don’t understand the difference, don’t be surprised. A recent survey of 1000 PR pros found 72% of them say their parents don’t understand what PR is, and another 41% say their spouses don’t know either.
So, in an effort to try to educate my parents I drove down to Philadelphia and gave a full two-hour public relations presentation to both my parents and an uncle. The case history revolved around a current client at the time, Mannington floorcovering. I brought down sample pitch letters and media lists, explained the difference between earned media and paid-for media, and even went so far as to show them final media placements for the client in both magazines and newspapers.
Although I wasn’t surprised when they asked why my by-line didn’t appear in these content-driven articles that had been basically lifted from my press release, I felt confident as I drove back to New York that my family definitely had a much clearer understanding of the difference between earned content and paid-for advertising.
And then, about two weeks later, I got a letter from my dad. The contents of the envelope contained a full-page, four-color ad of Mannington floorcovering appearing in the recent issue of Better Homes & Gardens magazine. Penned proudly at the top of the advertisement was a hand-written note from my dad proudly saying, “Great job! Love the work you did for your client.” That night I called to thank him for his continued interest in my success. What more could I say?
OK, so you’ve gotten the call—you’re one of the agencies chosen to present your recommended public relations program to the perspective client. You’re passed the written portion of the “test” and now you’re on to the in-person review.
Preparing for the presentation is probably the most important part of the “test.” Remember: It’s the presenter, not the presentation. So everything is riding on how the presentation goes. So, with this in mind, here are five tips on how to prepare for this vital experience.
Know the client. Yes, you are going there to present your recommendations, but you are also going there to make an impression. How knowledgeable are you of the client’s company, brands, history, etc.? How knowledgeable are you of any issues affecting the client? Their website if where you start but they are also looking to see what kind of research and industry investigation you did. What can you bring to the table?
Know your audience. Are you presenting to the CEO, president, product managers, public relations people? If they are bringing their “big guns,” then you have to do the same. Make sure you know who the participants will be ahead of the presentation. You don’t want to embarrass yourself by not bringing your “A” team if the CEO is present.
Case the space. Try to get entry into the presentation space ahead of time. Set up the projector and screen, arrange the collateral materials, select agency and client seating, check the lighting and air, make sure you have bottles of water on hand and remove anything from the conference table that may be distracting.
Think on your feet. I always tell my staff that there’s no such thing as a wrong answer—there’s only the non-answer. I encourage them to attempt a response and if it’s incorrect it’s my job is to jump in with the proper response seamlessly. So, if my colleague attempt the response, I may jump in with, “Well, in some cases that may be effective, but in this particular instance perhaps this would work better…..” Presenting as a team can prove extremely effective in this instance.
It isn’t over till it’s over. Follow-up is key in eliciting important feedback and determining where the decision-making process stands. If there are fence-sitters, they can sometimes be swayed through after-the-fact communications.
I always said that I could tell a good PR person within minutes of meeting him/her. And the more that I have worked in the business, the more I see that it is not necessarily age and experience that are the best qualities, but often it is their native ability.
Recently I had attended a recruiting fair at a local college and received numerous dropped off resumes from students as young as freshmen to as old as grad students. Since I manned a desk at the event, I was able to chat briefly with many of them, and I could tell the difference between those would fit in at my agency and those who might not. There are “tells,” subtle indications of a person’s true nature, that are revealed in a matter of seconds. Let me some of the “tells” that encourage me to pursue a candidate.
The elevator pitch. The candidates have to recognize that they only have a minute to inform and impress their potential employer. They should rehearse, rehearse, rehearse how they are going to sell themselves in less than a minute. Practice the handshake, the eye contact, and the smile in a mirror so that you see what your employer sees.
Confidence. They say that confidence comes with experience. I disagree. I have met with young college student who have terrific presence and confidence. I actually had one critique a client’s packaging colors in a manner that actually impressed me so much that I hired her on the spot.
I can’t overstate that genuine enthusiasm seems to come from within. Although it may be hard to learn to be enthusiastic about something that you aren’t, if you can master this, then you are on the road to a successful internship. Not all public relations agency clients are glitzy and glamourous, so if you can be enthusiastic about, let’s say a product that prevents diarrhea, then you just may have the qualities to be a good PR intern.
Look the part. If you are meeting with a prospective employer of a successful PR agency, dress like you are already working there. Yes, I know that some firms allow for jeans and t-shirts, but please don’t come to my office wearing that dress code even though others are. You are applying for a professional position, look the part.
So you are lucky enough to land the interview, make sure to follow up with the employer with a brief and personal thank you email (no phone, please) restating why you believe working for her agency might be a benefit to both of you. Then, wait it out. Sometimes it may take longer than you think for the company to make its final hiring decision.