What Makes a Good PR Intern

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.

Last year, I 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.

  1. 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.
  2. Confidence. They say that confidence comes with experience. I disagree.  I have met with young college students who have terrific presence and confidence.  I had one critique a client’s packaging colors in a manner that actually impressed me so much that I hired her on the spot.
  3. Enthusiasm. 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 glamorous, 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.
  4. Looking 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.
  5. Perseverance. 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.

5 Ways to Ace a PR Presentation

OK, so you’ve gotten the call—you’re one of the public relations 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.

  1. 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 is 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

When to Fire Your PR Agency

A good public relations agency brings a lot to the table. They can increase sales, improve brand reputation, introduce new products or services and take care of your social media efforts, leaving you free to focus on other parts of the business.

But when this isn’t your area of expertise, how do you know if they’re performing well? Here’s some insight on what to look for when it’s time to pull the plug.

  • Lack of enthusiasm. No, I don’t work for you but I certainly should work with you—and as such I should be able to show a high level of enthusiasm for your company—if not, I shouldn’t be in public relations.  Every client wants to feel special, as they should, so be knowledgeable about their industry and be able to bring additional insight and excitement to the client.
  • Poor writing skills. I don’t know how many times I’ve been told by wanna-be PR people that they are “good with people.”  People skills aside, you had better be a great thinker and writer because that’s what the client needs.  Clients in industries such as pharmaceuticals or finance are looking for specialized PR professionals who are capable of “translating” their jargon into English for the media and the end consumer.
  • Poor strategy. Hopefully, shortly after you hired your PR agency it researched and developed a public relations plan for the entire year.  And hopefully, they are adhering to the plan, or perhaps even expanding upon it.  But without a strategic plan, a good public relations program is doomed to failure. Look to the plan!
  • Lack of accountability. From the get go, your PR agency should have been sending you weekly and the monthly status reports and updates.  These reports should show you what the agency has been doing on your behalf, what it has accomplished during that time period and what it plans to accomplish in the coming weeks. Without this accountability the client will feel lost—and a poorly informed client will eventually fire the agency.
  • Poor communications. Before you fire your PR agency consider talking with the principal.  It may not be time to fire the agency, but time to fire or switch your day-to-day account person—the same person who may not be overly enthusiastic about your business may also be a poor communicator. Sometimes a change in the point person can reap short-term and hopefully long-term benefits.
  • Lack of initiative. You shouldn’t have to instruct your PR agency on what to do.  Again, they should be following that plan/strategy that they set forth. Your PR agency should be coming up with new idea and telling you what they are doing—not the other way around.
  • Not proactive. Your PR agency should be doing ongoing industry research and thinking up great content and creative angles—and then developing ways to amplify that content.  If they keep asking you for ideas, then it’s probably not the right fit.
  • Off-brand coverage. Going back to that strategic plan: It is important to make sure that your PR agency understand your brand and takes its positioning into account when developing a media outreach plan—both traditional and new media. You don’t want to suddenly see an article about your family-friendly brand in an inappropriate media outlet. That would give you cause to pause and reevaluate your agency commitment.
  • No results. Bottom line: Did you get what you paid for—what the PR agency promised?  If not, then it’s time to part company.  Also, if the public relations agency is landing opportunities for you that do not compliment the brand, for example reaching the wrong audience or mentions that don’t address your expertise or product, then it’s time to fire them.

Why Interns Should be Paid

As owner of a New York-based public relations agency who has been working with college-age interns forever, I wanted to go on record saying that it is time that the rest of you realize that they are not slaves, nor in indentured servitude.   If they are providing a valuable service, well, then they should be compensated for it, and not just with college credit.

My favorite adage is this: If you pay them then they will come.

When I first went out on my own 15 years ago, and had no paid staff, I quickly discovered the benefits of intern laborers—they work hard, they can accept a lot of responsibility and they should be paid for their work efforts.  And from the beginning I decided to pay them an honest hourly wage—even if they were receiving college credit for the internship.  I even threw in free lunch just to grab and keep their attention.

So, here’s why I strongly believe that you get what you pay for:

  1. If you pay them they will come. At the beginning I knew I needed cheap labor, though not free. I asked a number of colleagues who like me had tiny start-ups, and to a man/woman they all agreed that I would have better attendance, participation and happier internes if there were paid. They were right.
  2. Mentoring is the key. Since the starting hourly wage and free lunch were still not enough in my opinion, I knew that from the beginning I had to make their internship worthwhile.  Therefore I always made sure to provide them with the following:
    1. Responsibility
    2. Accountability
    3. Credit for having a brain
    4. Dedication/loyalty
  3. Valuable opinions. It is important to understand that although these are young people working for you, that they offer valuable insight into the mindset of Generation Z, those born after the millennials—and this can sometimes add an additional dimension that you might not have thought about. Don’t be afraid to ask them for insight.
  4. Internships can lead to jobs. I have often provided invaluable leads and job referrals to my interns and also have served as a valuable reference to them—more valuable in some ways then payment, one does not replace the other.
  5. Foot in the door. Companies that offer unpaid internships often barter that it’s a way for the college student to get a foot in the door.  Excuse me, but how is the intern going to pay for the shoe on that foot without a decent hourly wage?
  6. Death knell for college internships. This is what the “other side” is providing as a reason not to pay interns for time worked.    Washington is trying to regulate it so that companies that currently take advantage of college kids are penalized for it.  Although I myself am not a big believer in Big Brother interfering with my business, this should certainly cause those companies who are abusing college kids to start rethinking their policies.

How to Prepare for a PR Crisis

A crisis can happen at any time. And most often it happens when you are least prepared. And when it happens, 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 some recommendations from T.J. Sacks & Associates, a New York-based public relations agency with experience fighting the good fight for companies in a bad situation:

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.

a. 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.

b. Have written statements prepared for each potential weak area.

c. Make sure that no one but the key response team members respond to any media calls.

-Train your receptionists and phone people so they know whom to forward the calls to in case of a crisis.

d. Alert staff as to whom are on the response team—explain that these are the only people authorized to speak to the media.

e. 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 are 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 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, and the team assembled, they 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 a crisis of confidence for an infant formula to poor quality manufacturing practices to improper corporate practices. In each case, we 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 and be truthful and quick to respond when the media call. Your reputation depends on your planning for the worst and being grateful that it has passed.

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 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.

5 PR Tips for Managing Your Online Reputation

Here’s a great “geek joke:” Where do you hide a dead body? Answer: On the third page of Google results.

I always tell young employees to be careful of what they post on social networks cause it may come back to bite them in the ass.  Whether it’s partying at a frat house with beer bottle in hand or romping topless at a summer share, posting these shots on your social networks can lead to job declines and worse.  The best protection is not to post ‘em.  Next best is to become proficient at creating your own content and optimized profiles, to push offending content down to that proverbial third page in Google search results.

  1. Search yourself. Do a Google search on yourself including Google Images. Heavens forbid you see that photo of you holding that beer bottle, or worse.  If you do, then you know you have your work cut out for you.
  2. Keep private things private. Put privacy settings on all content you want to share only with a select group of friends and family. Remember that social networks are always changing their privacy settings and friends and family can easily forward embarrassing photo without your consent.
  3. Buy your domain name. Yup, for a few bucks you too can have your own website. You don’t have to be a famous author like Stephen King in order to get your own personal domain name.  This is the place to start building your personal reputation:  Place your bio, photos, blog posts and articles from sources you respect.
  4. Join social networks. Here’s where you get the opportunity to tout yourself and your accomplishments.  Post your personal information on sites like Facebook LinkedIn, Twitter and even Google+.  And if you’ve got some good graphic illustrations try posting on YouTube, Tumblr and Pinterest. Then, if you want to be more active, try joining groups on sites like LinkedIn and posting new content.
  5. Optimize your social presence. Fill out your information as completely as possibly including, of course, your URL and all social network links. Most websites give you the option of linking to other social media sites—do this—it will make your online presence stronger.

Public Relations Strategies During the Pandemic: Keep Calm and Carry On

My great-grandparents both died during the 1918 pandemic that struck Philadelphia like a bolt of crackling lightening. As a small child I remember my parents speaking about it in hushed almost frightened tones. It was something to be dreaded. And now here I am in the middle of what seems like a page out of Stephen King’s The Stand.

Today I find myself not only trying to protect my health and safety but also that of my clients. What worked yesterday just will not fly today, whether it’s working with traditional or social media. Consumers aren’t ready to accept the light and fluffy, but there is that careful step somewhere between “light and fluffy” and “all pandemic all the time.”  Since I’m just now finding my way through this event, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and guidance with you.

  • Toss your old strategy out the window. For one of our retail clients, we advised driving consumers to the website, with a shift towards a major ad spend on social media to drive them to the online store. For one of our healthcare practitioners, we advised fulfilling her dream of an informative blog aimed at patient needs while home during the virus. And for a medical device manufacturer, we shifted consumer outreach from retail to online strategy.
  • Revise your messaging. This one is a no-brainer. For one of our architectural clients, we shifted messaging from renovation/construction to home décor since basically all construction jobs in New York City are closed, but design could be worked on from home.
  • Be sensitive. If you are going to tag the virus in your content, make sure it’s done in the most sensitive manner. Everyone is sheltering in place. In your social media posts ask followers how they are doing. Be honest and tell them how you’re doing too. Create empathy. Empathy is key here. You don’t want to be tone-deaf and alienate people. If you turn to big brands, for example, you’ll see that some of them have gone quiet. It’s a delicate situation because you don’t want to sound like you’re just selling at a time like this.
  • Keep calm and carry on. The current situation requires leadership to be level-headed and calm, but also creative. Use communications tools, especially tech tools, to win people and influence consumers.
  • Stay optimistic.  As my mother was fond of saying, “This too shall pass.”

9 PR Best Practices for Corporate Blogging

Blogging can be a great opportunity for some organizations and brands to enter the social media world and thereby put their best foot forward on behalf of their company/product.  But before you jump head first into the blogosphere it is important to develop a strategy that helps present you in the best light while also grabbing the attention of your target audience.  Here are a few start-up tips:

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 in which 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), your keywords matter especially in the title as well as the tips themselves.

4. Use hyperlinks. In addition to using strong keywords, 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 his/her field so use this platform wisely. Learn how to teach others, how to arrange and present your thoughts in an organized fashion.

6. Provide advice. Position yourself as the guru or specialist in your field. With experience comes knowledge and it is important to pass this knowledge along to others. Blogging offers a perfect outlet.

7. Drive traffic. Blog through other social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook

8. Watch your length. Blog posts are 250-600 words long according to the industry-accepted standard. The more frequently you post, the shorter your post should be

9. Keep the posting schedule consistent. I try to post regularly on my blog so that followers will look at the site as a go-to place for insights from the president of a New York public relations agency.

Why PR Interns Should be Paid

As owner of a New York-based public relations agency who has been working with college-age interns forever, I wanted to go on record saying that it is time that the rest of you realize that they are not slaves, nor in indentured servitude. If they are providing a valuable service, well, then they should be compensated for it, and not just with college credit.

My favorite adage is this: If you pay them then they will come.

When I first went out on my own 15 years ago, and had no paid staff, I quickly discovered the benefits of intern laborers—they work hard, they can accept a lot of responsibility and they should be paid for their work efforts. And from the beginning I decided to pay them an honest hourly wage—even if they were receiving college credit for the internship. I even threw in free lunch just to grab and keep their attention.

So, here’s why I strongly believe that you get what you pay for:

1. If you pay them they will come. At the beginning I knew I needed cheap labor, though not free. I asked a number of colleagues who like me had tiny start-ups, and to a man/woman they all agreed that I would have better attendance, participation and happier internes if there were paid. They were right.

2. Mentoring is the key. Since the starting hourly wage and free lunch were still not enough in my opinion, I knew that from the beginning I had to make their internship worthwhile. Therefore I always made sure to provide them with the following:

a. Responsibility
b. Accountability
c. Credit for having a brain
d. Dedication/loyalty

3. Valuable opinions. It is important to understand that although these are young people working for you, that they offer valuable insight into the mindset of Generation Z, those born after the millennials—and this can sometimes add an additional dimension that you might not have thought about. Don’t be afraid to ask them for insight.

4. Internships can lead to jobs. I have often provided invaluable leads and job referrals to my interns and also have served as a valuable reference to them—more valuable in some ways then payment, one does not replace the other.

5. Foot in the door. Companies that offer unpaid internships often barter that it’s a way for the college student to get a foot in the door. Excuse me, but how is the intern going to pay for the shoe on that foot without a decent hourly wage?

6. Death knell for college internships. This is what the “other side” is providing as a reason not to pay interns for time worked. Really. Washington is trying to regulate it so that companies that currently take advantage of college kids are penalized for it. Although I myself am not a big believer in Big Brother interfering with my business, this should certainly cause those companies who are abusing college kids to start rethinking their policies.