Interning at a PR Agency During COVID-19: 5 Lessons Learned By Mikayla Gardner

When I began my internship at T.J. Sacks & Associates in January of 2020, I never expected what was to come. I don’t think anyone did. As a result of COVID-19 and all the craziness it brought, however, I learned some fantastic lessons that I will take into my professional future!

  1. Be flexible, especially during a crisis. None of us at the office were expecting COVID-19 to turn the world upside down, but as soon as rumors of a pandemic began to surface, we immediately implemented a plan to transition to remote work. By taking initiative in this project, I was able to not only retain my position as an intern but prove myself as a valuable member of our team.
  2. Let your creativity shine through. Being an intern does not mean you should sit silently and only speak when spoken to. Temi Sacks, the president of J. Sacks & Associates values creativity and good ideas, no matter what level in the company they come from. After sharing some of my ideas with her about how to tailor social media posts at the beginning of the pandemic for one of our home décor clients, I was given the opportunity to plan campaigns and write copy for that client, even as an intern!
  3. Don’t be afraid to try something new. When COVID-19 hit, the world of PR and social media was in absolute disarray! Though we had a three-month social media calendar meticulously planned for our home décor client, we knew our audience would no longer respond to posts enticing them to shop in-store. We had to completely reinvent our strategy for an audience whose accessibility was rapidly changing. By refocusing our efforts to promote online shopping, we were able to keep sales consistent for our client.
  4. Learn to communicate over any platform. We’re a small company, so walking over to a colleague’s desk was much easier than scheduling a Zoom call or sending an email. After we began working from home, I had to master professional communications over Zoom, Facetime, phone, text, and email. COVID-19 helped me to hone my phone skills, which, like many young people, I struggled with. Sometimes the best way to learn is by doing!
  5. Look for mentors! Though no one had experienced a global crisis like this before, my supervisors had dealt with many crises throughout their careers. Temi is more than willing to discuss PR tips, tricks, and questions with all her employees and interns alike. I took advantage of this mentorship opportunity and have been able to learn and apply PR strategies to the current COVID-19 situation.

Marketing + Public Relations Newspeak

It’s been more than 15 years since I opened my own marketing/public relations agency and during that time I have come to realize that an entire new lexicon has developed while I was sleeping, so to speak. I’m a pretty simple gal, so when I come across a new word I immediately Google it.  And lately, more often than not, I find myself rolling eyes, shaking my head and then just going back to reading.

The reason I resort to the eye-rolling is that marketing people now, more than ever, feel compelled to invent new words for us to learn and to replace the older, less exciting words. When I hear the younger generation of marketers uttering the newspeak, that’s when I once again find my eyes rolling.

Really? Do we really need a new lexicon to define what we’ve been doing all along?  For your ease, and to enable your own eye rolling, is a list of newspeak:

  1. Analytics—We used to call these reports.
  2. Content—We used to call this writing.
  3. Curating—We used to call this organizing.
  4. Earned media—We used to call this public relations.
  5. Evidence-based—We used to call this research.
  6. Engage—We used to call this commenting, sharing, listening, viewing.
  7. Infographics—We used to call these pictographs.
  8. Layering—We used to call this researching.
  9. Metrics—We used to say measurements.
  10. Monetize—We used to call this value.
  11. Multiplatform—We used to call this entertainment.
  12. Narrative—We used to call this the story.
  13. Optimize—We used to call this improve.
  14. Organic—We used to call this connecting, referring.
  15. Owned media—We used to call this promotion.
  16. Paid media—We used to call this advertising.
  17. Resonate—We used to call this shared emotion.
  18. Traffic—We used to call this circulation or viewership.
  19. Transparency—We used to call this what everybody knows.
  20. Value proposition—We used to call this core values.
  21. Verbiage—We used to call these words.

How to Read a PR Client’s Mind

How many times have you wished that you could indeed read your client’s mind? Or even better, read the mind of the prospective client?  I remember pitching a cruise ship line several years ago.  They had called me because I had the relevant experience of just recently having launched a new ship.

After the preliminary niceties, it was decided that I would fly out to Seattle to meet with them to present our initial public relations program.  But first, I asked if they had a budget.  Their response was the dreaded “zero-based budget” which quite frankly means that although they probably do in fact have a budget, they don’t want to tell us because they have the misbelief that we possibly will bring the budget in for less, and then they will have “saved money.” How foolish.

So, to remove the suspense, I didn’t get the piece of business. Why? Because when the client went to the back page budget and saw the total, he screamed, “On my goodness, this is much higher than our budget.”  Now, if the potential client had only told me his budget number I would have been able to create the best public relations program at that budget number. But because I couldn’t read his mind, I came in too high and could never salvage the business.

So, what has this taught me? Here is some insight into what potential clients are thinking:

  1. Can I trust her? Remember, it’s the presenter, not the presentation that gets you hired. They want you to look them in the eye and make them believe that if they give you their business, that you can truly help to solve their problems, make them richer, sell more product, whatever.
  2. Will she be there when I need her? Back in the day, I remember a noted PR firm having mandated that their staff wear pagers even when they went to the bathroom.  Today, with everyone’s mania about not going anywhere without their cellphones, the need for a mandate has been eliminated.  Clients want to know that they can reach you anytime and anywhere.  Yup, I know, that can mean nights and weekends, but if your client has a sudden crises, like a cruise ship fire off the coast of Alaska, they want to make sure that their team is there for them.
  3. Will she be the monitor of my money? OK, so you developed a suggested budget but things happen during the implementation of a public relations program whereby you may need to spend additional monies. Don’t be an idiot and spend big money without getting client buy-in. I have never had a client tell me “no” I can’t spend that unanticipated money. I have only seen clients go ballistic when huge, unanticipated expenses come through.
  4. Will she make me look like a hero to my boss? Everyone has a boss, even the CEO who just may happen to report to his shareholders.  So, when you are hired it is your job to make him look good; to make his superiors believe that hiring a PR firm was a good and meaningful corporate spend.