So You’d Like A Job In Public Relations

A successful B2B or consumer public relations operation is often dependent on a strong team of seasoned pros and a bench of promising up-and-comers. Although it’s important to keep the pipeline full all year, as we gear up for a busy fall, we’re paying particular attention to staffing needs. Whether you’re an aspiring communications pro, a veteran writer or someone transitioning from another field, take a close look at the “Dos and Don’ts” below to help land the perfect position.

Do show you understand public relations.  
That may sound ridiculous, but PR is often misunderstood, and we sometimes see candidates drawn to the industry because of a vague interest in “dealing with people” or because “it’s like advertising.” This often happens with a prospect who is changing careers or didn’t study PR in school, but either way, it’s a weak approach to landing a job. The candidate with the passion for PR and real understanding of it is the better choice over a lackluster interviewee who has a degree in public relations, so preparation and homework are key. We want the person who “gets it” and can define PR with fluidity and intelligence.

Don’t pigeonhole yourself.
Because of entertainment and fashion, a job in PR has taken on a “glam” halo that is often unrealistic. The PR industry is fascinating and ever-changing, no matter what kind of work you’re doing. Although you may have had your heart set on sports PR and now find yourself in B2B tech, odds are it will be just as stimulating and and challenging. Be open, embrace it, and you’ll surprise yourself with how satisfying the job can be.

Do know your prospective employer’s business inside out. 
If a candidate doesn’t say “I’ve been to your website” or “I’ve read your blog,” within a few minutes of interviewing, I’m wary. Anyone who wants a job with a company has to be familiar with it, at least in a cursory way. Preferably, this also means they follow the company, the management and some clients on social media and have made it their business to comment on posts and share content as well. Smart candidates start doing this very early in a hiring cycle.

Don’t burn any bridges.
Not even one. Trust is a key factor in hiring and prospective employers want to be able to contact references (both those that you supply and ones that they seek out on their own) and hear honest, hopefully positive, assessments of past work and working relationships. Even in the heat of the moment, or when someone suspects they’ve been unfairly treated, the right move is always civility. This includes refraining from any nasty subterfuge – texting, posting or in any way bad-mouthing colleagues or former employers. Legitimate gripes have their place on industry review websites or with HR departments.

Do show creativity.
We’re in the media and content business, so it helps if you’re a blogger, occasional videographer, or just a social media animal.  You’ll have a far better chance of standing out among the crowd if you have a digital profile with interesting and topical content, a personal (but not too personal) blog or Medium account, or a flair for creative visuals.

Don’t be shy.
Persistence, even pushiness, is also a differentiator. Sometime the most well-intentioned prospective employer gets bogged down, and regular reminders can mean the difference between that next interview and oblivion. Employ some “soft” measures as well – forward a link to a relevant article, pass on news of some non-work related accomplishment or a congratulatory note to the firm for a new business win. If all else fails, pick up the phone. Yes, the actual phone – that one personal touch could do the trick.

How Not To Make A Public Apology

As any PR person will tell you, the public apology has become a ritual for personalities or politicians who’ve made a mistake and need to restore their reputation. But too often it falls short. Call it the fauxpology, the pseudo-apology or, as I prefer, the non-apology. Whatever you call it, it doesn’t work; anyone listening or watching realizes that the would-be apologizer isn’t truly remorseful and calls it for what it is — a sad example of the #sorrynotsorry trend.

This month we saw a stab at something resembling a general mea culpa from Donald Trump for comments causing “personal pain” and a more formal public apology from Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte following his false story about being robbed in Rio. But who’s sorry now? In my view, Lochte’s expression of regret was far more successful, but each offers reminders for what not to say if you want to be taken seriously.

Here, then, are a few lessons from the non-apology rule book.

Don’t take responsibility

Best epitomized by the passive-voiced “mistakes were made” statement, this is the ultimate non-apology. It reeks of bureaucracy and has been used by government institutions, political operatives or mega-corporations who need to acknowledge error but who can’t or won’t assign responsibility. Today, it’s mostly the stuff of parody.

Better yet, shift responsibility to others

This is a time-honored fauxpology tactic best seen in the mealy-mouthed “I’m sorry if anyone was offended” line. It implies that those who are hurt or upset are simply overly sensitive. It’s also become so worn out that it’s not really worth doing. Lochte skirted this trap by making it clear in his interview with Matt Lauer that he was willing to “take ownership” of his “immature, intoxicated” behavior. He loses credibility, however, by minimizing the fact that he originally lied to investigators.

Talk a lot about how bad you feel

Or how misunderstood you were. Even in a personal situation, it’s tempting to wallow in regret, explain the bad behavior, or talk about what it cost you. Remember former BP CEO Tony Hayward’s “I’d like my life back,” after the Deepwater Horizon spill? Not a smart move. A sincere expression of regret is acceptable, but it shouldn’t be about you. And one of the worst ways to express contrition is to go on and on about why or how the misbehavior occurred. It quickly devolves into excuses, and excuses are the enemy of the true apology.

Have a lawyer write it

Ah, the crafted-by-a-committee-of-lawyers statement. This one’s particularly offensive. Legalistic words and hairsplitting terms, particularly those that seek to avoid liability, may be legally smart, but they are not sincere. There are times when a lawyer-vetted statement is unavoidable, but it will not usually promote redemption because the lack of personal responsibility or emotion is apparent. But then, for those accused of serious infractions, it’s sometimes a choice between restoring their reputation or avoiding jail. Avoiding jail usually wins.

Minimize the consequences

To his credit, Trump actually acknowledged that his ill-chosen words might have “caused personal pain,” which won him a couple of points on the apology scorecard. But his lack of specifics and self-justifying windup to the expression of regret were less impressive. It felt instead like a campaign trial balloon to test a kinder, gentler Trump. Acknowledging the consequences of bad behavior is part of taking responsibility.

Do it reluctantly

Some of the most badly received public apologies are those that seem to have been dragged out of someone after days of bad PR. Timing really matters here. Delays enable a drip-drip of negative coverage, while a prompt statement or interview will show sincerity and can help turn a negative news cycle.

Don’t focus on fixing or changing the situation

The most powerful thing you can say in a public apology is often about change. The company recalls its faulty product or fires the sexual harasser; the philandering politician recommits to his marriage; or the entertainer checks into rehab. Better yet is some kind of restitution for those who were harmed. Some fixes are more convincing than others, but even a worn out plan of action, like Anthony Weiner seeking therapy after his (first) Twitter scandal, is better than no commitment to change.

Focus on your fans, not the victim

If an apology is self-serving, it smacks of insincerity. Something that adds authenticity to a true mea culpa is when the offender apologizes privately to the people harmed, out of the spotlight. It was smart of Lochte’s PR counsel to have him give national media interviews in both the U.S. and Brazil to express remorse for his actions. Trump’s semi-apology would have been far stronger if he had already contacted those he insulted. It’s a long list, but had he started with the Khan family, whom he criticized after Khizr Khan’s remarks at the Democratic National Convention, his “regret” would have rung truer.

Be vague

A generalized apology is a non-apology. To have teeth, it should be specific. This is where Trump failed with his “regret” remarks, and where Lochte was more successful by describing what he should have done after the gas station incident. Lochte’s remark that he “should have been more careful and candid” was ultimately inadequate because he actually lied to investigators and the public, but at least he addressed the elephant in the room.

Hide behind a statement

Not every crisis situation warrants active media engagement. Where there’s legal liability or emerging information, a written statement may be adequate. But for purposes of personal redemption after a high-profile gaffe, a well planned sitdown with a carefully selected journalist is often the most compelling forum. It has risks, but I think the face-to-face method carries the most weight, simply because it involves a greater commitment and viewers or readers have more to guide their reaction.

PR Winners And Losers Of The Rio Olympics

Well in advance of the Opening Ceremonies, the public relations leading up to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games was mixed at best. The Rio Games were dogged by controversy and criticism, from dire predictions about the spread of Zika virus, to concerns about crime and overall infrastructure. But the cloud over Rio cleared after a shaky start, and things ended on a triumphant note –for the host city, anyway. Here’s our take on the PR “winners and losers” during the 15 days of the recent Olympic Games, apart from Rio itself and athletes named Simone.

PR Winners of The Rio Olympics

Visual storytelling. As always, there were stories of triumph and disaster among the athletes, and major media companies stepped up to the challenge. The New York Times enhanced our understanding of Simone Biles’ amazing athleticism through riveting multimedia features. Reuters used Virtual Reality and The Washington Post experimented with automated storytelling. Not all were equally successful, but it was a strong sign that traditional media companies are committed to exercising new storytelling muscles.

Older athletes. As ridiculous as is sounds, this was an Olympics for “geezers.” The average age for an Olympic athlete in Rio is up by double-digit percentages in both gymnastics and swimming, as well as five percent for track and field events. The Games illustrated how sponsor funding, sports science, and high-tech training techniques helped to make this the oldest crowd to hit the podium, giving media plenty of individual athlete stories to cover and stoking interest by viewers of all ages. The trend enables “comebacks” by such late bloomers as 31-year-old Michael Phelps and Uzbek gymnast Oksana Chusovitina, who competed with teenagers in Rio at an elderly 41.

“Underdog” nations.  Even as we in the U.S. cheered the home team athletes, it was exhilarating to learn about the many nations who scored podium spots for the very first time. Singapore, whose Joseph Schooling became a national hero by beating out Michael Phelps for the gold, was joined by Kosovo, Puerto Rico, Vietnam, and six other novice countries who tasted victory in Rio.

Sportsmanship. Some bad behavior notwithstanding, the Rio Games saw its share of exemplary handling of the agony of defeat. Missy Franklin made no excuses when she fell short of expectations, and Kerri Walsh-Jennings managed her first failure to win Olympic gold with grace. Swimming champion Katie Ledecky delighted viewing audiences with extraordinary performances in and out of the pool, and who can forget the photo of her finishing a full 11 seconds ahead of her closest competitor? It was a meme bested only by #PhelpsFace.

PR Losers of the 2016 Olympic Games

Ryan Lochte. For someone who actually medaled, Lochte was the ultimate Olympics loser. His drunken vandalism of a Rio gas station might have been excused if he’d only come clean about it (and the apparent overreaction of a security officer there), but Lochte concocted a self-aggrandizing robbery story, then skipped the country, leaving his teammates to answer to authorities. Despite a public apology for his behavior, Lochte paid a high price in bad PR and a damaged reputation. Worse, he stands to lose millions as endorsements dry up.

Trollish behavior.  Honorable mention for unsportsmanlike behavior goes to Hope Solo, who called the Swedish soccer team “a bunch of cowards” after it beat the U.S., and Gabby Douglas, for her less than enthusiastic reaction to her teammates’ victory. (Earlier Douglas was criticized for not placing her hand over her heart during the national anthem following the team’s gold-medal performance.) But even on Twitter, the trolls were defeated by an outpouring of support for Douglas among celebrities and others.

Russia. Although it was allowed to compete, Russia never really escaped the stain of its drug-use scandal. Its athletes were sometimes booed by the live audience, and it came in fourth in the medal count. A new cold war was born.

NBC. At 28.2 million viewers, primetime network ratings lagged well behind those of the London Olympics. Although its ratings — and ad revenue — were still well head of network rivals, and streaming viewership may have pulled those numbers up, the drop was particularly steep among younger viewers. This doesn’t bode well for the future. NBC was criticized for tape-delayed broadcasts, but its real failure may have been a lack of, um, flexibility and innovation in covering big sports like gymnastics where most fans are unfamiliar with technical details and there was little inherent competitive drama.

It didn’t help that NBC’s Chief Marketing Officer blamed the drawn out, soap-opera-like coverage of the Games on women viewers, claiming they’re not really sports fans but are “more interested in the journey.” In an excellent New Yorker piece about the technical depth of gymnastics, Reeves Wiedeman offers the network a new idea for how to cover – and watch – the Games.

PR Secrets To Securing Speaking Engagements

These may be the dog days of summer, but public relations teams everywhere are working hard to book their CEOs and others in enviable speaking slots at upcoming conferences and trade shows. We are no exception, with outreach occurring now in categories as varied as 3D printing, online advertising and wearable tech, to name a few. And, while the categories may vary, there are some tried and true strategies to help your speakers secure coveted spots.

Don’t start conference outreach without an “agenda.” We are not referring to a conference schedule here, but a speaker’s agenda. What audiences does she want to reach? What is she best equipped to speak about? How many conferences can she attend? Without a robust speaking history, which are realistic events? Once you’ve answered these questions, put together a tight list of conferences where you stand a good chance for consideration.

Pitch to your strengths. Much like a candidate running for office, you want to have one or two go-to speeches on topics you know really well. Give them pithy titles and make sure they are adaptable to different audiences. Freshen and update them regularly with industry and category news that’s relevant to your audience.

Acquire a speaking history. Start on home turf and with friendly audiences – business clubs and organizations, alumni, religious institutions, schools and libraries are all looking for interesting speakers. Try out your “stump speech” here in varied formats and hone to perfection.

Add special effects. Even the most riveting speaker can improve a performance with sharp, compelling visuals. Think video, slides, stills or a combination. One of the best speeches I ever witnessed also incorporated audio. Whatever effects you add, make sure they truly add dimension and texture to the talk, not just window dressing.

Think outside the conference. Though your speaker’s expertise may be 3D printing for example, is a 3D printing conference the best option? Once again, examine what you want to achieve through speaking – if the goal is to reach more potential customers, it’s much more likely that conferences addressing “vertical” audiences are where the business opps are to be found.

Look beyond the keynote speech.  At most conferences, there is only one keynote address. But there are several other opportunities. Offer up your candidate for the keynote but look beyond to panel discussions, moderator posts, cocktail or breakfast talks, etc. If all else fails, come up with a creative way to get your speaker heard. For an upcoming conference that includes a lunch, an exec we work with is set to lead table discussions on the day’s hot topics. We like it as it offers him more intimate exposure to potential business leads than other speaking opps.

Finally, sometimes you find yourself closed out of a conference that has a full speaking slate. Don’t let that stop you! We advocate for offering up  speakers in case of cancellation. And it has worked! Like any initiatives in PR, persistence pays off.

How to Have A Great PR Intern Program

A wave of mild panic is sweeping over public relations agencies all over the land this week as this year’s crop of summer interns prepares to go back to school. These student employees add value and voice to all PR teams, and we hope they reap as many benefits as we do. We always want to improve the intern experience, so we interviewed some of our best and brightest and we’re already using the following takeaways to enhance next summer’s program.

Don’t fence me in. If you already have a rigid gameplan for a student intern, be prepared to trash it. The first few days spent getting to know each other can unearth interests and skills that, when allowed to blossom, enrich the experience for everyone. We’ve had interns with a wide range of passions, from politics to art, which proved very useful to some of their work — and, no, it’s not just about Snapchat. Your intern may be a beer geek, an art maven, or a whiz at editing smartphone videos. Be prepared to be flexible, and be amazed.

Come from a place of yes. When one summer’s team of interns banded together and came to ask if they could write a new business plan for a potential account, we didn’t hesitate. The experience gained by collaborating and exercising creative and strategic muscles was important for the interns and the work product was useful. The best part? The group didn’t miss a beat on any of their existing assignments.

No need to coddle. Despite what you may have heard about Gen Y, our experience shows the cohort to be a hearty bunch, eager to take on challenges. If you’ve done a good job vetting candidates and setting expectations, your student interns are more than ready to thrive under pressure. Pile on varied work assignments and see “what sticks.” Test those waters again and again and watch the work and work ethic improve.

Treat their recommendations seriously. With the millennial generation on target to best the Baby Boomers, that’s a force to be reckoned with.  Translated into the workaday world, this means the PR student intern can be a font of fresh information for press releases, pitches, media outlets and more. Take advantage of this youthful bunch to make your pitches more relevant.

Always add stretch goals. Our goal with most interns is to help them learn the basics of work-life in a PR environment. The tasks usually include research, media monitoring and list building with some “shadowing” of client and media meetings. But we also try to figure out an intern’s particular strength and set a goal for something more to master by the time the summer’s gone. For one of this year’s interns, it was to be part planning and executing a special event. For another, it was to develop a media strategy for a partnership announcement.  The most satisfying outcome of his experience? As this intern was packing up to leave today, he said his “career path was clear” and PR was it!

Why Your PR Program Isn’t Gaining Traction

It’s a good time for people in the public relations business. It seems that companies of all stripes have discovered the power of PR and are giving it high priority. That’s great news, but it sometimes comes with high expectations that aren’t easily realized.

So what happens when a PR campaign isn’t working? We often say that public relations is more of an art than a science, and it’s true.

Although what we do is more data-driven and more measurable than ever, like any good professional service, it also relies on intangibles like creativity, experience, and judgment. And when things aren’t measuring up, it can be maddeningly hard to diagnose the problem.

Here are some possible reasons why a PR program might not be gaining traction.

You don’t stand out. Differentiation is a relative thing. We talk about a brand’s unique selling proposition (USP), but the fact is that few are truly unique. But it can still stand out. Bear in mind that a USP can hinge upon a superior product or service, but it can also be born in a strong corporate culture, a passionate customer service orientation, an entrepreneurship story, or even an offbeat marketing campaign.

Your story’s self-serving. SAP’s Craig Cincotta advises knowing the difference between a story and news. He’s right. A brand story may be interesting, authentic, and even compelling, but that doesn’t mean it’s easily transformed into a feature story or interview. Think of it as a foundation for additional news that comes in the form of new products, partnerships, customer experiences, expansion, or original research, to name just a few.

You’re relying on press releases. News releases have their place, but they’re often badly crafted, in part because everyone weighs in, and the result is a written-by-committee announcement that is watered down and news-free. Even a well written release is unlikely to trigger significant media coverage, so it’s better used to get news in the public record or for timely disclosure of material information in business transactions.

Your timing is off. When it comes to media relations, timing is key. It sounds silly, but we’ve actually had companies approach us in late August for a back-to-school campaign, or call about wanting help for a funding announcement to take place in a week. Every PR program needs and deserves proper planning, and those wishing to be featured in editorial media should understand that they often work according to a seasonal calendar and that out-of-season story ideas are shelved.

Your expectations are unrealistic. There are two common types of inflated expectations: companies who expect significant and glowing media coverage for relatively minor developments, and those who think such coverage will instantly transform their business. Neither is likely. Media relations is a process that builds over time. And even the most impressive earned media coverage probably won’t jumpstart flat product sales if there are other aspects of its quality or go-to-market strategy that need attention.

You’re aiming too high. You should aim high, actually, but when it comes to earned media, we like to walk before we run. Trade publications, professional blogs, local-market news sources, and other types of media are solid targets for a new campaign. 

You’re not giving it enough time. Good PR, and the media relations piece that many clients value, is not a one-and-done process. It takes time and energy, not only from the PR agency or team, but from the client. Similarly, forging the relationships that help build a reputation requires a plan for the long term.

6 PR Tactics For Back-To-School

Certain times of year are associated with major public relations efforts. Next to holiday season, back-to-school may present the most bountiful opportunities of all. B2S initiatives can support diverse categories, including personal finance, fashion, health and safety. Here are some examples of what works well with those on the back-to-school beat.

Know who covers what. This is a reminder to follow the “golden rule” of media list building – thou shalt not trust a subscription database-produced media list on its own. Sure, it’s a great place to start to build out your B2S media list, but all contacts must be researched for viability. It also pays to do a quick search of who has covered the topic in the recent past. Often times this unearths an unexpected contact whose regular beat may be something completely unrelated but who assumes this assignment each year.

Be part of a round-up. The tried and true tactic of assembling a list of complementary (but non-competitive) new products or services is always a media winner. You have done much of the work for the journalist and presented a newsworthy array of goods, rather than just tooting your own horn. Recently, this approach served us well in this syndicated article from Newsday, that we placed on behalf of client, Wearsafe, a wearable personal safety device, designed with the college student in mind.

Stay on top of timing. September school start dates are so last decade. Today’s schools start as early as today for both k-12 and colleges and universities. Be mindful of this when putting together pitches, you can’t be too early! It’s often helpful to include start dates in pitches that are localized to a particular city or state.

Trends, trends, trends. As with any good PR pitch, seek out trends to hitch your company’s product or service to. Hot fashion items for kids, what’s new in tech and what to pack for dorm rooms are examples of the type of attention-getting topics to research while putting together a pitch. Of course, always a good idea to see what’s going on in the news on the day your team is pitching so that your query is fresh and topical.

Survey the intended audience. Forward-thinking companies avail themselves of fresh data every B2S season. This includes the popular annual surveys on B2S spending that we conduct on behalf of shopping app Retale, which have proven so popular that media begin asking for the data before the survey’s even done! If budget permits, there are also advantages to surveying a particular audience, such as single parents or stay-at-home dads to add a different dimension.

Produce content on the topic. Take the good information you’ve gleaned from a combination of the above tactics and produce a byline article for a company executive. Again, publications are looking for timely content and willing to publish cogent, well-written pieces on everything from what’s new in campus security to better ways for retailers to profit from the season. The topics and outlets are only limited by your imagination.

When Brands Take A Stand: PR Advice For Issue Campaigns

Staking out a position on a high-profile issue is a time-honored public relations strategy. When done well it creates a public platform and builds brand visibility designed to resonate with customers. The right campaign can also humanize a corporate brand and engage individual customers and stakeholders in a powerful way by tapping their emotions.

Most importantly, a well designed brand platform linked to a topical issue can differentiate a brand among a sea of competitors. But in today’s divided social and political culture, is it always a good idea?

Studies show that Americans are 8.1% more likely to buy from a company that shares their opinions and are 8.4% less likely to purchase from a company whose stance diverges from theirs. And according to research by the Global Strategy Group, 56% of Americans now believe corporations should engage in dialogue surrounding controversial social-political issues.

I’m not always convinced by research that asks consumers how they feel about corporate behavior, or that poses hypothetical questions about unnamed companies. Much of the research touting corporate social responsibility is fielded by consultancies and PR firms who market such programs to clients. It seems more instructive to look at the data, and certainly there’s evidence showing principled companies can and do succeed.

Issue Campaigns Have A Bottom-Line Benefit

A study by McKinsey offers hard evidence of the bottom-line value of social responsibility. It shows that companies gain through four key metrics: growth; return on capital (through workforce and operational efficiency); risk management; and ability to attract quality senior talent.

It’s also been noted that a sizeable segment of the population feels that public-company CEOs have an obligation to speak out on important issues. We’ve witnessed the rise of the “activist CEO” in the actions of chief executives like Marc Benioff and Howard Schultz. This is primarily in response to the dominance of social media, and with it, a heightening of public expectations. There was a time when a corporation, as embodied by the chief executive, could keep his head down and quietly deliver quarter after quarter for shareholders. No more.

Millennials Rewards Principled Brands

Then there’s the millennial factor. Study after study confirms what we know intuitively — that younger adults are more inclined to reward corporations that seek to “make a positive impact,” as long as they perceive it to be sincere.

Of course, simple social responsibility may not include an embrace of a potentially divisive issue or movement. A company that takes a stand on marriage equality, Black Lives Matter, or even global climate change may find itself facing controversy. Yet I’d argue that a well-articulated position, even on a debatable issue, is a viable communications strategy for many brands today. To stake out a middle ground on minimum wage, or transgender rights, is increasingly tough. It’s no longer safe. So you may as well embrace a position, as long as you can do so with eyes open.

Here are some broad parameters for brands adopting an issue-driven campaign.

Make it relevant.  The success  of an issue or cause-driven program often hinges on its relevance to core customers. Advocacy works as a blunt instrument and as such may not be as useful for attracting new customers as it is for deepening relationships with an existing base of users. If a brand truly knows its customers, it can create powerful connections.

Know your customers. This is marketing 101 for most brands, but occasionally an activist CEO will wander off course to embrace an issue that’s not only controversial, but seems to contradict customer values. When Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy came out against marriage equality, it generated bad PR but probably didn’t hurt its business. On the flip side, when Whole Foods founder John Mackey opined against Obamacare, it provoked boycott threats because it went against the grain of Whole Foods’ mostly progressive customers.

Engage employees. Employees have enormous power as evangelists, both for good and for ill. Any position on a hot-button public issue should dovetail with how rank and file staff feel about the matter. A thorough audit among internal constituencies will minimize risk and can even galvanize employees to help carry the water.

Be prepared for pushback. It doesn’t always happen, but it pays to be ready for those who disagree. A strong brand can typically weather some debate in the face of a thoughtful and well articulated position on an issue of substance. But some companies are ill prepared for pushback and are tempted to reverse course when it happens, with poor results. Nothing is worse than a flip-flop. Wells Fargo showed some grit after it ran an ad featuring a gay couple that sparked boycott threats from Frank Graham. If you’re going to take a stand, be ready to double down.

In PR, It’s All About The Relationship

Many of us in public relations are considered “people” persons, but what does that most trite of expressions really mean? To us, it simply means PR people are skilled at making and maintaining relationships. Whether mining for new business, hiring or connecting to media, it’s all about those relationships. Here are some examples of how to leverage the ones you have and cement others.

Give a journalist a “job”

If your PR team can use the skill set of a working journalist, what better way to gain insight into how media make editorial decisions than to work with an insider? But if you don’t have a position for such a person, there are other ways to give an employment opp to a journalist and make a friend for life.

We often retain a writer or editor to moderate “thought leadership” panels of experts to explore a key issue relevant to a client’s business. We’ve also worked with financial writers to conduct a series of seminars designed to teach personal finance skills for a credit union client. Most recently we hired a food journalist to host the launch party of a new beer. In each case the relationship was strengthened by the collaboration and opened the doors for more opportunities down the road.

Make new friends, but keep the old

Though not all employee partings are positive, for the most part it pays to stay on good terms with employees who’ve left the fold. Former colleagues can be a great source of potential hires. They know what you’re looking for in an employee and they know the company culture. This often puts them in a great “matchmaking” position. Additional benefits of maintaining good relations with former employees? Often in PR, an agency employee transitions to an in-house job and, with that, the ability to hire a PR firm. The past positive relationship can put you in a great position, sometimes even a “lock.” A former colleague of mine made a smooth transition to print journalism years ago and has remained a great source for story pitches and interviews.

Social media mining

In today’s digital domains, we are all in relationships with people we may have never met in real life. Does it matter? We say, not at all! Online relationships are important and can have great value in your personal as well as your business life. Friend, like and share with your online world of contacts and reap the relationship benefits. My favorite tale of leveraging a purely online relationship is when a graphic artist whose work I admired sought out our team to recommend to a client of hers seeking PR counsel. The client hired us on her say-so without having met us “in person.” Although we did end up meeting and working together, I still have never met the graphic artist “IRL.”

Every event is an opportunity

There’s a memorable scene in “Working Girl,” the classic Melanie Griffith-Harrison Ford rom-com, when the couple crashes a wedding based on information gleaned from page six of The New York Post. They corner a big potential client and land a meeting in the process. Savvy PR people know that every wedding, cocktail party, and event at your child’s school is rife with possibilities. No one wants to obviously “work” a room, but if an organic opportunity presents itself, go for it!

Make all your contacts feel special

This is just common sense and etiquette. One key asset of social media is the ability to know when someone has a birthday, a work anniversary, a new job, or something similar. Take advantage of this wealth of information to send a simple congratulations, or if warranted, a splashier gift like champagne or flowers. Whether it’s a company you’re courting or a reporter you’re stalking, a polite gesture in commemoration of an important milestone is going to make an impression. And isn’t that what good PR is all about, making good impressions?

How PR Gets The Most Out Of Media Spokespersons

There was a time when public relations teams sought the services of one perfect spokesperson to act as the media “face” of a B2B or B2C company. This often required a long search, a sizeable investment of time and budget, and sometimes, a less-than-stellar performance as the interviews or resulting stories fell short.

Experience working with many different kinds of brand spokespersons, from boldface names to how-to bloggers, is a good reason to bring on a PR agency. That’s because hiring a PR spokesperson is a big commitment, and it’s nearly always a risk. Even after meticulous planning and vetting, the best relationships don’t always go as planned. It may be that a “hired gun” celebrity name can’t believably connect to the brand. Or maybe there’s an expert with too many other commitments, causing your product message to be shoehorned into a TV segment with several others. Then there’s the charisma-challenged authority, like a qualified medical expert or financial expert, who has mastered the material but fails to make it accessible.

Our advice here? Cut your losses as quickly as you can and course-correct. Spokesperson agreements should always have an “out,” and a full-blown message training should be part of the deal, even for a professional performer.

Here are some pointers for working with media spokespersons, both inside a company and through a paid relationship.

“Horses for courses.” A favorite colleague used to say this, meaning that different people are suited for different things, and it’s often PR’s job to figure that out. We represented the founder of a company that had a terrific first year in business. When he worked a trade show and glad-handed customers and salespeople, he was superb. Interviews with newspapers and business pubs were more of a challenge, yet these reporters often demand to speak to a senior executive.  As a result, we groomed another high-level player in the company for media interviews. This individual had a different kind of expertise and was better able to handle the more serious interviews, while reserving the founder for situations helped by his folksier approach.

Contrary to what you may think. Whether it’s man bites dog or Trump running for President, the unexpected is often the most compelling. We work with a client that has developed a personal safety device whose target user is a teen girl and target purchaser is her mom. We devoted time to a concerted search to find a perfect celebrity mom to act as broadcast spokesperson. After digging more deeply into the prospective customer’s mindset and the needs of media who cover the category, we realized that the best spokesperson might actually be a dad. Not only would a father be very motivated to discuss how to keep young women safe, but as the slightly less-expected choice, fathers are very appealing to media. It helped that we had a prominent security expert on our team, and with a little training, he is proving to be a media asset.

The genuine article. Sometimes the most genuine brand spokespeople aren’t spokespeople at all, but authentic fans who can represent it in a very positive way. By scouring social media on behalf of a brewery client, we became aware of a talented mixologist with an impressive pedigree and a devotion to our client’s products. When he speaks about the brand, it’s from the heart. His sincerity makes for a better soundbite (with pun intended) than all the media training and key messages we could provide.

The right spokesperson strategy requires a deft touch and the ability to correctly assess both media and customer response. The ideal situation provides the opportunity to work with select representatives to get across different company and brand messages – and remember, sometimes they aren’t who you’d expect.