8 Skills They Don’t Teach You as a PR Major

You’ve learned a lot in college, including algebra, U.S. history and how to text under your desk. But once you leave your beloved alma mater behind, you may realize there are some very important life lessons that you never learned.

8 Skills They Don’t Teach You as a PR Major

If you want to avoid that terrifying task of entering the real world without many of the skills you need to succeed, take the time to learn these things, before graduation day rolls around.

  1. How to manage your money. So you land a job in a New York public relations agency straight out of college and the company provides you with the option to join its 401k plan.  Without a basic understanding of the stock market, which is almost never taught in school, you will be dead in the water.
  2. How to cook. Overprotective parents are not doing their children any favors. Upon graduation they not only don’t know how to slice a tomato, but have no understanding of how to buy groceries or prepare them.
  3. Home repairs. Another area where parents should take responsibility for initially putting that hammer and screwdriver in their kids’ hands and explaining the basics of how to hang a nail on the wall for a painting or remove a screw.
  4. Social skills. The best jobs require social skills, according to recent findings published in the New York Times.  As a kid in kindergarten you learned to play well with others. Then, as you moved along in school these skills were replaced by impersonal lecture-style teaching of hard skills, with less peer interaction. In such fields as public relations, the softer skills like client interaction and counseling, motivating colleagues and being a team player are emphasized.
  5. Leadership skills. A good leader’s job is to get work done through people. Skills like how to hire the best people, how to provide mentoring, and then how to get out of the way and let them do their job are skills that unfortunately are often left for on-the-job learning.
  6. How to sew. So, what do you do when you have to sew on a hanging button? Either befriend your local tailor or learn this valuable skill.
  7. How credit works. Just because you were able to secure a credit card doesn’t mean you should use it foolishly and mindlessly.  With some credit rates as right as 28%, it could take you years to pay off a $1,000 balance. So, don’t party hardy unless you can pay with cash.
  8. How to find a job. The very basics of how to go about researching and landing a job are skills that unfortunately are often self-taught.  Seek out professors and counselors as well as taking advantage of career centers for assistance in this vital area.

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.

 

 

 

Tips to Make Your Corporate Blog Standout

Tips to Make Your Corporate Blog Standout

It’s an powerful tool to have your company’s corporate blog standout. Blogging can be a great opportunity for some organizations and brands to enter the social media world and put their best foot forward.  But before you jump into the blogosphere, it’s important to develop a strategy that helps present your company in the best light while also grabbing the attention of your target audience.  Here are a few helpful tips to start:

  1. Grab their attention. Nowadays it seems that everyone has taken to the Internet with an opinion, 10 tips, or guidelines. Make sure that you start off your blog with something that is relevant to your audience and will make them want to continue reading. You’ve only got a few sentences to grab their attention. Make it worth their while to stay.
  2. Use bullets or numbered lists. Everyone loves a list whether it is 10 tips, bullets or just visually pleasing in the layout.  You are competing for everyone’s time and attention spans are waning, so the setup of you blog is very important.
  3. Develop keywords.  For search engine optimization (SEO), keywords are extremely important to have in your title and in the body of the article itself.
  4. Use hyperlinks. The use of hyperlinks aids tremendously in spreading your blog post throughout the Internet.
  5. Write about what you know. Everyone is an expert in their field, so use this platform wisely. Learn how to teach others and how to arrange and present your thoughts in an organized fashion.
  6. Provide advice. Position yourself as the guru in your field. With experience comes knowledge and it is important to pass this knowledge along to others. Blogging offers a perfect outlet for this.
  7. Drive traffic. Blog through other social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook.
  8. Posting Consistently. I try to post regularly on my blog so that followers will look at the site as a go-to place for insights on public relations.

Skills They Don’t Teach You as a Public Relations Major

Skills They Don’t Teach You as a Public Relations Major

You learn a lot while studying your college major. But once you leave your beloved alma mater behind, you may realize there are some very important life lessons that you never learned.
If you want to avoid that terrifying task of entering the real world without the skills you need to succeed, take the time to learn them before graduation day rolls around. Here are some skills they don’t teach you as a public relations major:
1. How to manage your money. So you land a job in a New York public relations agency right out of college and the company provides you with the option to join its 401K. Without a basic understanding of the stock market, which is almost never taught in school, you will be dead in the water.
4. Social skills. Some of  the best jobs require social skills. As a kid in kindergarten you learned to play well with others. Then, as you moved along in school, these skills were replaced by impersonal lecture-style teachings of hard skills and less peer interaction. In a field such as public relations, softer skills, like client interaction and counseling, motivating colleagues, and being a team player, are emphasized.
5. Leadership skills. A good leader’s job is to get work done through people. Skills such as how to hire the best people, how to provide mentoring, and how to successfully lead a team are often left for on-the-job learning.
7. How credit works. Just because you were able to secure a credit card doesn’t mean you should use it mindlessly. With some credit rates as high as 28%, it could take you years to pay off a $1,000 balance. So, don’t party hardy unless you can pay with cash.
8. How to find a job. Unfortunately, the very basics of how to go about researching and landing a job are skills that are often self-taught. Seek out professors, counselors, and career centers for assistance in this vital area.

How to Prepare for a Crisis

How to Prepare for a Crisis

A crisis can happen at any moment. Most often, it happens when you are least prepared.  And when it does happen, there is no such thing as a small crisis.  In today’s environment things can go wrong when least expected. Your CEO is accused of financial misconduct, your employee is accused of harassment, your product has a manufacturing glitch, your pharmaceutical has unforeseen side effects.  These, and more, can catch you off guard and make your life, and the life of your corporation, miserable.  The best laid plans are those that are penned in advance. Here are six tips on how to prepare for a crisis:

  1. Identify potential crisis situation(s) in advance. Identify your potential internal and external weaknesses. Start doing your research early to see where your weak links exist and how you might possibly shore them up ahead of an event.
  2. Do you have a crisis plan? If not, these are elements to be considered: Start researching and writing a crisis plan today.
    1. Identify your key response team.
      • Media train them early and often—ideally in front of video camera so they can get immediate feedback on their mock responses.
      • Have their contact information on hand for rapid access.
    2. Have written statements prepared for each potential weak area.
    3. Make sure that no one but the key response team members respond to any media calls.
      • Train your receptionists so they know whom to forward the calls to in case of a crisis.
    4. Alert staff as to whom are on the response team—explain that these are the only people authorized to speak to the media.
    5. Stage crisis readiness simulations.
  3. Key leadership role. Start preparing early to develop and fine-tune your corporate leadership. Make sure they are comfortable addressing the media and have them “practice” during off-crisis times, such as when they are releasing earnings or when a product’s sales is doing exceptionally well.
  4. Be prepared to respond to the immediacy of social media. Are you prepared to respond quickly to misinformation, accusations and distortions? Is your social team prepared or will they have to wait hours and days for “corporate” to sanction a social outreach? Is your management aware of the potential damage that waiting on social media can inflict?
  5. Review and update your crisis plan annually. Once developed, the team should meet quarterly to review their “action plan”.
  6. Hire a public relations agency. I have been involved in a number of crisis situations reaching from an ineffective birth control device to poor quality manufacturing practices to improper corporate practices. In each case, we’ve worked to develop a crisis plan, train the response team, prepare media responses, and act quickly and effectively on behalf of our clients.

Although a crisis is seldom averted, it can be dealt with quickly and efficiently once all your ducks are lined up in a row, so to speak. Remember, be calm when all hell is breaking out, be straightforward when the hordes are pounding at your door, be truthful, and be quick to respond when the media call.  You reputation depends on your planning for the worst, and being grateful that it has passed.

5 Things to Be Grateful for This Year

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5 Things to Be Grateful for This Year

Though things may have not turned out the way you had hoped, we all have something to be grateful for this year. We’re here to help you remember that life ain’t all bad. Here are five things we should all be grateful for in our professional and social lives:

1. Communication. Try to think back to the days of letter writing and long awaited responses. We know…it’s tough to remember. Though technology may frustrate us to the nth degree at times, we should all be thankful for being able to communicate through our cellphones, email, etc. What would 21st century business be like without the ability to quickly email clients or contact employees while on-the-go?

2. A support system. Your support system could range from an array of faces. Think family, friends, a mentor, or, heck, even your pets. Whenever we’re looking for a pep talk, or need someone to quickly proofread a resume, we can always count on our support system.

3. Jobs and hobbies. Gratitude should be given to the jobs and hobbies we have in our life. Whether your job is at a law firm, or your hobbies include volunteering at a local animal shelter, we all have something to look forward to during our week.

4. The little things. We all know the classic phrase: “It’s the little things in life that make us happy”. And, quite frankly, it truly is the little things that help remind us how grateful we are. Think back to free food at the office, or catching the subway at the last second. These are the things that go a long way.

5. Education. Something I know I take for granted sometimes is the education I have received. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve gone to a big, state school or got your degree online. The most important thing is to recognize how lucky you are to have received an education, which is seen as a luxury to many.

 

7 Ways to Define Public Relations

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7 Ways to Define Public Relations

For an industry that does so much to help define its clients and industry, pills it is an unfortunate turn of events that public relations has such a vague understanding among many audiences. When I first told my parents I had entered into the field of public relations, they went around telling everyone that their daughter made it big in the Madison Avenue world of advertising—yup, advertising. Like so many others, they had no idea what public relations was. And who could blame them? Especially when our industry has continued to evolve over the decades and has never settled on just one basic definition. Here are seven ways to help define public relations:

  1.  Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics. (PRSA)
  2. The activity or job of providing information about a particular person or organization to the public so that people will regard that person or organization in a favorable way. (Merriam-Webster)
  3. The profession or practice of creating and maintaining goodwill of an organization’s various publics (customers, employees, investors, suppliers, etc.), usually through publicity and other nonpaid forms of communication. These efforts may also include support of arts, charitable causes, education, sporting events, and other civic engagements. (BusinessDictionary.com)
  4. Public relations is the opposite of advertising. In advertising, you pay to have your message placed in a newspaper, TV or radio spot. In public relations, the article that features your company is not paid for. The reporter, whether broadcast or print, writes about or films your company as a result of information he or she received and researched. Publicity is more effective than advertising, for several reasons. First, publicity is far more cost-effective than advertising. Even if it is not free, your only expenses are generally phone calls and mailings to the media. Second, publicity has greater longevity than advertising. An article about your business will be remembered far longer than an ad. (Entrepreneur)
  5. Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing the spread of information between an individual or an organization (such as a business, government agency, or a nonprofit organization) and the public. Public relations may include an organization or individual gaining exposure to their audiences using topics of public interest and news items that do not require direct payment. This differentiates it from advertising as a form of marketing communications. Public relations is the idea of creating coverage for clients for free, rather than marketing or advertising. (Wikipedia)
  6. Public relations is the art of managing the spread of information about an individual or company is disseminated to the public, and attempting to frame that information in a positive light. (Investopedia.com)
  7. A basic definition of public relations is to shape and maintain the image of a company, organization or individual in the eyes of the client’s various “publics.” What is a “public” exactly? A public, in PR terms, is anyone who ever has or ever will form an opinion about the client. (Money)