A few years ago, I had a meeting with a potential new client from China. It went well enough that halfway through he asked me, “So how do you communicate with your clients?” To which I responded, “Telephone, text, Skype, FaceTime, Zoom or email.” He queried. “What about WhatsApp?” And right there, in my Park Avenue office conference room we stopped our meeting in order to connect via WhatsApp.
I think it’s an extraordinary thing that we now have so many tools with which to communicate to potential clients, friends and family…yet, somehow the art of communication has fallen to the wayside.
Here are a few of some valuable tips on how to make the most out of the art of communicating:
Come prepared. Prepare a list of points that need to be covered in the conversation.
Listen before you speak. Make sure you have not only talking points prepared, but also listening points. Don’t be in such a hurry to get your opinion or thoughts across and therefore miss the important nuances that are coming from your client.
Avoid relying on visual aids. Steve Jobs instituted a rule at Apple that banned all PowerPoint presentation. Be prepared to use works, compelling storytelling and nonverbal cues to communicate your points.
Non-verbal cues. One study found that nonverbal communication accounted for 55 percent of how an audience perceived a presenter. That means that the majority of what you say is communicated not through words, but through physical cues. Fill up the space you are given, maintain eye contact and if appropriate, move around the space.
Don’t interrupt. It is very rude to interrupt a person while they are speaking. Nobody likes to be interrupted because it hampers the thought process and it is disrespectful.
Don’t be defensive. Be neutral and transparent so that you can understand what is being discussed. Always maintain the balance in the conversation so that everyone involved in the discussion has a fair part in it.
Don’t deviate. Stay focused on the agenda at hand. Always maintain the balance in the conversation so that everyone involved in the discussion has a fair part in it.
Be confident. If you’ve been invited to the table, then assume that you are expected to be part of the conversation. Don’t look for validation or an invitation to join the conversation from your superior.
Be open to new ideas. New ideas can come unexpectedly, so if a younger, less experienced member of the team comes up with a great new idea, or helps open your eyes to a new direction, be open and receptive.
Explore new communications methods. Just like when my Chinese client suggested opening a line of commutations via WhatsApp, be open to some of the newer technology that may make communication easier, faster and more effective.
Master the art of timing. Great communicators, like all great comedians, are able to feel out their audience to determine when to move on to a new topic or when to reiterate an idea.
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:
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, articles from sources you respect.
Join social networks. Here’s where you get the opportunity to tout yourself and your accomplishments. Post your personal information on sites like FacebookLinkedIn, 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 at sites like LinkedIn and posting new content.
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.
“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.
Press releases are essential in any public relations strategy. They detail product launches, special events and other newsworthy activities that a company produces. Because media outlets are flooded with daily stories and pitches, it is imperative that you make yours stand out from the rest. Here are seven tips to make your press release stand out, look professional, and attract reporters to your story.
Grab their attention with a strong e-mail subject. A strong subject in an email will peek the reporters’ interest and lead them to read your release. Keep a subject 5-7 words highlighting the most important takeaway from the release.
Get right to the point. Assume the reader will not read more than the first paragraph. Get the message out quickly. Every point should be addressed in the headline and first paragraph with supportive information in the subsequent paragraphs.
Always use quotes when possible. Including quotes from your client makes them an authority in their profession. It is important to have your information validated by a trusted source. Quotes can also clarify any information that you have in the press release while attributing it to your client.
Check your grammar, then check it again! Always proofread your press releases; any grammatical errors can turn a reporter off. It is unprofessional and sloppy for anyone who works in PR to have spelling or grammatical errors in their press releases. Remember, the only thing that we produce as a profession is words on paper: they should, therefore, inform and impress.
One Page is best. As with most good writing, shorter is usually better. You should limit yourself to one page. This will force you to condense your most significant information into a more readable document, which is something that journalists always appreciate.
Provide access to more information. Just because your press release is limited to one page doesn’t mean that you have to leave out information. Provide relevant links to your client’s website where prospective writers can learn more about their mission and what they’ve accomplished. Don’t make writers search on their own for more information; it is important to guide them as quickly as possible to your website, and to keep their interest in your message.
Always provide your contact information. A common oversight that can render a press release ineffectual is a lack of contact information for reporters. Whether you or someone else at the company is the point of contact, don’t forget to include an email address and phone number on the release. Media people are not shy; if they have a question, they will contact you.
Social media offers an opportunity for public relations agencies to reach out to journalists in a more intimate space. But beware—not all channels offer appropriate outcomes. There are right and wrong ways to use social media to query reporters, because you don’t want to come across as a stalker to a reporter. Remember that the social media sphere is a very personal shared space so be careful to follow these simple do’s and don’ts:
Don’t pitch journalists through Facebook. Facebook is a place for friends. Even though Facebook has become a place for business too, journalists consider Twitter a professional tool, not Facebook. Also, when you message someone you aren’t friends with on Facebook, it goes into their “other” folder, which often goes unchecked. Avoid posting on their wall or to pictures to get noticed– journalists want to maintain some privacy on their Facebook page.
Don’t mass pitch reporters on Twitter. Remember, when your tweet can be seen by everyone. Don’t try to get noticed by a lot of reporters at once by pitching multiple accounts at once through tweeting. As soon as you pitch a journalist, they will likely click on your Twitter profile to learn more. If the reporter sees that the last several tweets are copied and pasted to different multiple people, they will lose interest quickly.
Don’t contact another journalist to get his colleague’s information. It’s unprofessional to contact a reporter to get through to another one. Even though one reporter might have less followers than another, and it might be easier to see an @mention with that person, reporters are being pitched all the time—so they don’t need to be bothered with a PR person trying to reach their colleague through them.
Don’t follow up more than once. The point of pitching on social media is to keep it short and sweet. If you follow up more than once, reporters will automatically mark you as spam and you won’t be able to contact them in the future.
Find out the reporter’s beat before you pitch them. It’s your job to do the research and theirs to determine your pitch’s relevance to the audience and publication. You can find this out by seeing what the reporter is tweeting or retweeting, and also by investigating their bio; it will usually say what topics they are interested in or what their beat is. You can also double check on media directories, such as Cision.
Use Twitter to pitch. Twitter forces PR pros to keep their pitches short and catchy. It is okay to pitch journalists through Twitter because they treat their accounts as an extension of their reporting, so they might be more willing to chat with you on Twitter about topics relating to their beats. When pitching reporters on Twitter, @mention the company you are working for and a link to some news–if they recognize the organization they maybe more likely to respond.
Remember to follow social media etiquette and you’ll do just fine.
A well developed and well executed public relations program can do wonders in helping to develop and drive sales. Let me count the ways:
Earn credibility. The big difference between public relations and advertising is that PR takes a lot more effort, thus it is often referred to in the marketing industry as “earned media.” Nielsen’s 2015 Trust in Advertising report shows that people trust earned media (as in editorial articles and posts) and owned content (as in social media) more than any other formats. The dynamic partnership that these two elements play is important to understanding and realizing sales growth.
Generate interest. A successful new product or service launch to your target audiences will greatly help to develop and stimulate interest and serve as a platform for introducing your brand to new audiences. Successfully breaking through the enormous clutter of information available to the average consumer is overwhelming and sometimes confusing. Working with the media to convey your brand messages and values so that interest in piqued, is the job of a good public relations agency.
Educate prospects. A well-executed public relations program can not only help to educate consumers to your products and services, but also reach out to and influence potential shareholders as well as potential business partners. The more that they read, see and hear about your brand, the more engaged they will become, and the more exciting your brand becomes to them.
Create a buzz. What makes a good public relations campaign is its ability to create a buzz through both traditional and new media outreach–through the earned, owned as well as purchased outlets. By connecting them all, a client soon realizes the value of a well-integrated and orchestrated marketing plan.
Door opener. OK, which would you find more credible? Receiving a link to a sales pdf file or a link to a recent news article? This should be a no brainer. The more newsworthy a company or a brand, the more likely it is to engage with its audience–to be more believable, more important, more credible. That’s the power of public relations in helping to drive sales.
Good content is recyclable. Good content, whether it be for a blog, social media site or a press release, should be recyclable and reused time and time again. After all, what are you paying a good PR agency for, if not for them to create content that you can recycle? It’s not only time efficient, but cost efficient. And it’s a way of getting more bang for your buck as well.
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.
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:
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.
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:
Credit for having a brain
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.
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.
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?
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.