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 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, 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 at 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.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

7 Tips for Writing a Strong Press Release

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

6 PR Tips That Help Build a Brand

Building your brand and maintaining its presence is a full-time job.  Sometimes this job can be handled internally and other times the best solution can come from an external public relations agency. 

Here are 6 PR Tips That Help Build a Brand:

  1. Public relations. As a demand-generation tool, nothing beats a well-crafted and strategically implemented public relations program.  For developing credibility and garnering brand awareness, a PR campaign can fine-tune messages, build brands, develop prospects and avert crises.  Talk to a public relations agency and learn what it has to offer.  Your brand will thank you…so will your bottom line.
  2. Social media outreach. Be careful not to discount the millennials. Like it or not, they are the newest and most passionate group to jump onto the social media bandwagon, and you can’t be late to dinner on this one. You’re public relations agency can easily develop and maintain your social media pages, but so can your internal marketing department.  Bottom line is, make sure someone is minding the store.
  3. Blogging. Again, a good public relations agency can assist you in the development of your company blog, but this is something for which you should spend some time figuring out your point-of-view.  This will make it easier for you, your PR agency or your marketing department to feel comfortable writing in your style and voice.
  4. Research. Before any outside agent can assist you with your branding you have better done your own initial research into your marketplace.  Who are your competitors? Pricing? Potential controversy, such as ingredients, pricing, sourcing? Know your audience and know it well. Consumers can be a fickle bunch.
  5. Reputation management. In the current climate, reputation matters more than some appreciate, and protecting, as well as enhancing yours is important for your bottom line. Strong sales can be the result of strong leadership and an innovative sales department. It can also be the result of a strong reputation.  Make sure you take the time to not only create your reputation, but to learn to protect it.  One bad online review that goes unanswered can lead to a potential viral disaster and an end to consumer confidence.
  6. Promotion. There is a fine line between enticing promotion and bombarding your customers with unwanted emails and promotional materials. Balance and timing is everything. Choose your targets and messages carefully. Realize that a well-positioned promotional piece or event, selectively placed and strategically developed, will do much for your brand sales and growth.

Tips for PR Pros: How to Pitch Journalists Via Social Media

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Do:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

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.

9 Questions to Ask Before Hiring PR Agency

A successful PR campaign can help grow your business and gain awareness of your company. When considering a PR agency to hire, there are a few questions you want to ask to make sure they are a fit for you.

1. Have you worked on campaigns in my industry? You will get the most out of an agency if they have experience with your sector of business. You can ask for references from previous clients, and to see results from past campaigns. This can give you an idea of their industry capabilities.

2. Who is my direct contact/team members? You should know who you will be directly working with on your campaign. Ask who your contact person at the agency will be and who will be working with them. It is important to know your team and be comfortable with them, so they know what you want and what you expect from them.

3. Which media outlets are best for me? It is important for PR agencies to know who their client’s target audience is, and for an agency to have experience in traditional and new media. The agency you select knows the outlets that will reach your audience the best. This can range from traditional media placements, such as television and newspapers to online promotions as well as social media outlets.

4. How will your agency measure success? Before hiring a PR agency, it is important to know how they measure success. The most common ways that agencies measure success with a client is through media placements, and social media analytics. Social media analytics can be social media page “likes”, content reach, and follower interactivity. Another thing to consider when choosing how a firm will measure success is an increase in traffic to your website or increase in sales after a PR campaign

5. Will you provide media coaching? See what is being offered in terms of media coaching or training; this can be a valuable lesson to anyone who will be interviewed by the media. If the agency doesn’t handle media coaching directly, ask if they refer you to for an experienced media coach.

6. Are you experienced on social media? Social media is an important tool to reach many of your stakeholders. It is essential that you find an agency that is well versed in social media, and the social media trends. You can ask to see results from social media campaigns or promotions from previous clients, to gauge if the agency has success promoting a company in your field.

7. How will you communicate with me? It is important that your PR agency communicate with you on a regular basis. Usually agencies will send a monthly status report detailing what they have done and where they have placed your business, however it is still important for them to touch base with you on a regular basis in order to maintain a pulse on your campaign. You can ask how often you will be updated on campaigns for your company, and how often the staff will be available to you. You should also make yourself available to your PR agency, in case they need a quote, or approval in a pinch.

 8. What type of contractual arrangement do you provide? Most New York-based public relations agencies require a minimum contractual arrangement, such as six months, or, in the case of a specific project, time will be allocated against the project.

9. What type of financial arrangements? Most agencies work on a monthly retainer basis with time worked against the hours of the retainer.