What They Don't Tell You About Public Relations

So I wrote a piece about what you should know if you Want a Career in Public Relations!  Apparently, it is was extremely helpful because I receive quite a bit of emails and calls from PR newbies! Well if that was helpful then I want to add just a touch more for aspiring flacks so you have a true understanding of the behind the scenes rules of PR.

Of my years running MEPR Agency I have had the privilege of working with some really amazing young, rising stars.  But I believe even as dynamic as anyone is there is always room for improvement.  This is a compilation of some of the areas you only learn…the hard way!

The industry is really small: I know, I know everywhere you look there are PR pros, publicists, social media gurus, and marketers and promoters impeding on the space too.  But the reality is that within your market you will find some key firms and then whittle it down to the key influencers within those companies.  Those people, the ones at the tops of firms, all speak to each other, do lunch (or tea in my case), sub-contract work with each other, and ultimately make the decisions within your city or industry.   The bottom line is that you never know what one relationship can turn into and on the flip you never know if you don’t get the job because of a previous mishap.  Keep it cool, don’t burn bridges, be thankful, and remain humble!

We do actually talk to each other: There is such a large myth that I want to dispel.  My competitors are not my enemies; we just work for different agencies.  I love working in PR in Nashville because I know some great PR folks.  While I don’t chat with them all the time I know that I am able to call on most as our schedules fit. Bottom line: read the last two sentences of #1.

You can be blacklisted: Very rarely I meet up with a colleague, have a phone chat or just run into them and I get some disturbing news.  What could it possibly be? “Have you heard XYZ is unable to find a new position?” You see every now and again there is just such a stench on a person that can’t be dusted off.  Remember, that each decision we make can directly affect the rest of our lives and our career. Don’t get stopped before you even get started by having an off the record convo with a reporter, using inappropriate or unscripted language during a crisis, or even fraternizing within the workplace.   Bottom line: be careful to stay off the ‘list’!

You are being followed: I, along with many of my colleagues, believe in virtual stalking. Before you get scared and click off let me share what that means.  Virtual Stalking is the opportunity for me as an employer to go far beyond a basic Google search and begin really digging into your online footprint for fact checking.  If this was a recording I would suggest you pause the tape (do they make those anymore) and do an intense scrubbing of your online profiles.   It’s not a matter of taking down vacation pictures but it is a chance for you to add work skills, examples, and even a resume…wow, what a thought!

Google could change your life: Ok so now you have the job and you are asked to work on some client research.  In that moment Google could become your best friend and help you navigate what competitors are saying, the tone or language that the client uses, and even any gripes that might be out there from former customers of the client.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions but by all means if it is something that you can search for then please do!

Instructions should only be given once so take notes: one of my biggest gripes with the younger generation is the thought that they can retain everything.  If you have a weekly meeting by all means please bring some paper and pen or an ipad to take notes.  The worst thing is to leave and then get bombarded with 20 questions that were all answered in the previous meeting.  Now I do believe you should be able to ask follow up questions and there is nothing wrong with being even more knowledgeable but if you ask the same question or have trouble with something covered it is a great indicator of how you will act/react when given larger responsibilities.  So, if all else fails bring your cell phone and take some quick bullet pointed notes.

This is one of the hardest industries you will encounter: I truly believe that aside from medicine, science, the military, and police, EMT, and firefighters, public relations might be among the hardest industries.  This is not frilly or Samantha Jones-esque by any stretch and you may have many days with tears, anger, or even wanting to quit.  As you are on your journey looking for an opportunity or if you are a newbie at a firm make the best of every moment, even the tough ones.  Honestly, you will have two opinions: you will understand your value OR you will run away and never look back.  It is my hope through programs like the Mentorship Project that you will stick it out and make an impact.

Thankless but rewarding! Of course I can’t leave you on a sour note because this last thought is so true.  You don’t always receive a ton of hugs and bouquets of flowers but I will say that the PR industry is extremely rewarding. I encourage you to find your specific passion and try to work in it, even on a small scale, so that you can feel the reward as you impact communities and empower people to movement. After all isn’t that why you entered this career?

Kia Jarmon is a brand strategist and PR coach with boutique public relations firm, The MEPR Agency. She speaks, blogs,mentors, and is soon to be an author. You can find more information at her personal brand site, www.KiaJarmon.com

8 PR Facts

PR takes time: How long have you been in business?  If it’s been a while and this is your first attempt at PR, hang on because it will be an eventful journey.  There are rarely any parts of the PR campaign that can happen overnight.  Yes, we might pitch an outlet and they find interest the next day BUT there is more work to be done.  We have to make sure you are prepped, update all of your materials, and continue pitching the other targeted outlets on our list.  PR should indeed be an ongoing process and re-evaluated and measured quarterly for extremely short-term goals and every year for the larger, longer lead goals.  Believe me we wish we could wake up and the world saw you as an awesome business just like we did.

We don’t have every reporter on speed dial: Believe it or not I do not know everyone.  I chat with at least a dozen or so prospective clients a month and at least a handful ask about my infamous list of famous people, specific media outlets, and my social status.  I am often tickled because I believe anyone who tells you they know everyone is being untruthful.  I have a great list of PR colleagues in a good number of cities, I have access to an amazing list of media contacts, and I have a few thousand ‘friends’ between all of my social platforms.  HOWEVER, what makes a PR firm or publicist really valuable is their ability to build non-existent relationships and continue to cultivate current relationships.  Sometimes it takes a while (refer to #1) but that is what you should pay for.  Remember it’s quality of how they build relationships vs quantity of people in their rolodex.

We are not magicians: I have been called magician a time or two, as have many of my colleagues, and while I have been known to pull a trick or two out of my hat I am NOT Harry Houdini or any other type of magician.  There are some rare occasions when I make a 72 hour PR blitz seem effortless, which I have indeed done, but it is unrealistic to think that every amazing idea can happen at the last minute OR that I can miraculously have Oprah call to have you on one of her life classes. Again, refer to #1 and know that the magic happens strategically and with intention from you (the client) and ME (the PR company).

Spinning is for plates! I am naturally creative so the only thing spinning about me is my brain with lots of ideas.  The PR profession, just as any other profession, has a code of ethics and personally I have a code of ethics/conduct.  I will never find my sweet spot by lying for my clients.  I can craft and frame (very PR-esque words) but I will not spin.

We do more than get you on television!  In PR, how many times do we get the phone call that goes “can you get me on XYZ show?”  That usually leads me to a series of questions about the company/organization, their current efforts, their expectations, and some of their additional goals.  What we usually conclude is that they need far more than media outreach.  While the media is a great addition to your plan you have to also ask yourself “if the media goes searching for me online will they find any information?” or “I am seeking additional visibility and want more people in my store but is my customer service up to par?”  These along with a dozen other questions should be a part of your thinking strategy as you are looking to include PR.  Remember to keep your end expectation in mind and then fill in the gaps with the best plan to meet that need.

PR is not free, cheap, or inexpensive. I am always amazed at how PR is defined in some circles as free advertisement when in fact advertisement is advertisement and PR is not!  A couple of myth busting facts: 1) a PR plan can be costly for your company.  You have to consider your needs, the hours, and over what course of time you will need a firm or consultant (I recommend at least 6 months to a year).  2) Every PR task, even ‘free’ sites like Facebook has a fee association.  Whether you hire us or a full time staff member you have to associate a dollar amount to their time. 3) There are no short cuts.  Hiring the wrong person for your company because they are discounted, free, or cheap can be another costly expense for your company.  Take your time to hire the correct person to save time and money.

Every PR firm is not the same. Believe it or not every PR agency, consultant, or freelancer is not the same.  That doesn’t mean that they do not all offer amazing service with more importantly great results but their client approach, business culture, and strategies should fit your needs.  Take some time to ‘date’ the firm you are considering to see if they understand your business.  Also, ensure that you like and appreciate working with them. Bottom line: understand that like snow flakes no 2 PR firms are alike!

Bigger is not always better!  Looking to hire a PR firm?  Reconsider your needs and how the firm best fits with you rather than their company or roster size.  Also, for some reason there is an untrue, yet perceived philosophy that business is better in NY, CHI, or LA.  While there is absolutely nothing wrong with a larger firm or a firm in a larger city it is important to consider the alternatives like a boutique agency, consultant, or freelancer.  What do you get with a smaller agency? More individualized attention; you have 1-2 main contacts and the approval process does not take an act of congress and your account exec is more likely to have the answers to your questions.  It is also a cost effective alternative.  Many times smaller agencies are not looking to overcharge for a long distance phone call, extreme admin fees, or the unpredictability of your monthly invoice.  If you are looking at a large agency think about receiving a bid from a boutique agency also OR if you enjoy working with both types enter into a joint agreement where the boutique/freelancer collaborates with the large agency as a subcontractor.

Kia Jarmon is a brand strategist and PR coach with boutique public relations firm, The MEPR Agency.  She speaks, blogs, mentors, and is soon to be an author.  You can find more information at her personal brand site, www.KiaJarmon.com.