You have a personal motto: Everything you say and everything you do is public relations. How does that impact the work you do every day on behalf of your clients?
Whether I am working at an agency, in-house in a corporate communications role, or as a direct-hire for a freelance consulting client, my job is to look around corners. I believe (and this has been tested and observed continuously over my 20-year PR career) that there is a significant benefit to having public relations take the lead in an organization’s communications, marketing, branding, and even customer service.
The ‘everything’ part of my motto sums it up – every process, every decision, every sales pitch is telling the customer (employees, shareholders, etc.) who you are. If you are an army of one launching a new project or a large multi-national corporation, your words, your actions, your responses, your decisions are what makes the brand. PR has the best opportunity to communicate those activities on behalf of the company, setting the tone for other marketing initiatives.
You are skilled in the art of placing stories in the media, and you’ve done it across a wide swath of outlets. Whether you’re pitching the Kansas City Star or Cranes Today, what is something PR pros should always keep in mind when telling a story on behalf of their client?
Thank you for that compliment and for asking this question! I love our profession and I want to cast a wide net to include anyone and everyone who has a passion for business communications. However, we are doing this wrong. We have fractured our relationship with the media (journalists specifically) by putting the editing, storytelling, and development work on them. Journalists are constantly receiving untimely, inappropriate, wasteful pitches and I blame public relations leadership for continuing these ineffective practices. Now, I know not all agencies and all consultants do this, but enough people running PR are working against our relationships with journalists that we have to start calling it out.
I recently did a presentation called Taming the Media Beast. I am not calling journalists animals in this scenario; I am saying that this whole media relations process has gotten out of hand. Regardless of what journalist or publication a PR pro is pitching, I think these three things are essential:
1. Build trust first and foremost
2. Research and then research more
3. Trim your media list (quality over quantity)
You host #PrimeTimePRChat on Twitter each week. How did that start and why is it important to you to gather PR pros from around the world and discuss different topics on a regular basis?
Well, I am sad to say that #PrimeTimePRChat was born of boredom and frustration. But never fear, this story has a happy ending! I left an agency consulting position earlier this year to look for a senior communications position in-house or within an agency, and frankly, not working full time left me with a lot of free time over the summer. Too much!
I used that free time to catch up with my social media contacts and to dive back into a daily routine of chatting with other professionals. Getting caught up on PR and the daily industry news brought a lot of frustration. There is such a focus on early-career professionals, which is important, but I could not find great information or great conversations for practitioners like me, who have years of experience.
I do not need to read articles about how to write a press release. I was desperate to connect with people who are older and wiser and can act as mentors for me. I am not done yet; I still want to grow professionally. Having conversations with people with 3-5 years of experience was not helping me to move forward in my career. It’s a double-edged sword because I love working with younger staff members. I’m surrounded by teenagers at home and I love what the different generations bring to the table. But in terms of growing my career, I need to rely on professionals who have as much experience or more experience than I do.
So, I started a Twitter chat. No one was asking the hard questions and I need that. I am experienced enough to be considered a leader, but I still want to be led. Since I have great online connections, I am able to bring together vastly different perspectives and we have fun slicing and dicing current trends and the topic of the day. #PrimeTimePRChat is the best hour of my work-week and even when I land a full-time role, I’ll keep it on my calendar. This industry is hard. We are super connectors and super communicators, but we don’t always take the time to do for ourselves. Now I simply cannot get by without my weekly dose of smart PR friends.
A lot of folks look at content marketing and public relations as two separate things. But I believe the two can (and should) go hand-in-hand. Agree? Disagree? Tell us why.
I both agree and disagree. (How’s that for a super PR answer!) They are separate things, and ideally, you have two people or two teams specializing in each. However, as I said before, PR should take the lead and set the tone for content marketing.
We see a lot of bad content out there. My theory is that the people and companies that are doing it well are approaching it within a strategic communications framework. That’s PR. We are here to help with marketing and sales. We understand that content needs to drive leads, sell products, and create awareness but it also has to represent the organization authentically and connect with the reader. I think companies do best when they approach content marketing from a PR vantage point.
Your career has been spent working for a lot of different companies, but you are now completely on your own when it comes to the work you do. How did you come to make that decision to strike out solo? And, what’s your biggest takeaway from solopreneurship?
Well, now I am just going to sound like I am complaining! Being on my own as a consultant was never my goal and it still is not the end-all goal. Back in 2001, I was working full time at an agency in San Francisco and a friend of a friend asked for my PR help. To get started, I had to pitch the CEO of the company. I did and I walked away with my first freelance client.
My solo career has all happened organically and has been a random, happy coincidence, often due to my being too nice and saying yes to new projects, or my financial needs, or my getting bored between jobs. I am so thankful for the 100-plus clients that I have helped. I have truly grown from each and every freelance experience.
Most of my clients have been small businesses being managed by real entrepreneurs. I have loved supporting their visions, their passions, their work. I have learned how to pitch new business, how agencies compete, and how to manage clients – I now have better insight into all aspects of the business of PR due to my consulting career. Now I’m ready to go big. I will always say yes (almost always) to friends and former colleagues who come to me for advice or need my help. Even when I finally land that awesome PR leadership role that I am dreaming of, I still want to be a resource to the small businesses of the world and will continue to share my experience with the general business public to help demystify the PR world.
Finally, the question I ask everyone – what is the best book, fiction or non-fiction, you’ve read recently?
Great question! I love to read and need to make more time for it. I rarely read fiction, unless there’s a great historical fiction release, which I love. Mostly I read business books. I am so behind! I have spent much of the last decade reading young adult fiction and children’s books to my kiddos, so I basically have Harry Potter memorized. This summer I reread Michelle Obama’s Becoming and my book club did me a solid recently by not picking fiction (which is highly favored) and went with WOLFPACK: How to Come Together, Unleash Our Power, and Change the Game. I guess I am in girl-power mode because that has been a focus of my most recent reads.
Julia is a freelance PR consultant who has worked with more than 100 small businesses on a variety of corporate messaging, digital marketing, and public relations programs. You can follow her on Twitter or request to connect with her on LinkedIn.