Illustrating the Point
Posted August 15, 2012
In my junior year of high school, my English teacher wrote on top of my first essays, “Show, don’t tell!” in red ink and, it seemed to me, with relish.
When I reread the paragraphs I’d written, I didn’t see the problem. My essay on “Life of Pi” was peppered with red ink admonishing me for what I hadn’t done. “Pi is a resourceful character,” I wrote in one paragraph and, apparently, that’s all I wanted the reader to know, because I wrote the entire paragraph by rewording that assertion over and over again.
“Tell the story” is a popular, but misleading phrase. A good story draws you in with images, using words to let you visualize the events. Once you understand how to “show,” and why, you’ll never go back to “telling.” My teacher explained it this way: You’re a character witness for a good friend in court. Telling the judge and jury, “Jacob is a nice guy,” won’t keep him out of jail. Showing what a nice guy he is will. “Jacob volunteers with Meals on Wheels every week. And he once rescued a child from a burning building, even though his arm was in a cast!” will get the charges dropped and probably get Jacob a date.
“Show, don’t tell,” applies to telling stories, writing stories, and pitching reporters. When pitching your client as an expert, it’s essential that you show the reporter why your client is the best person with whom to talk. “Dr. Lawler is the lead researcher at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. In 2010, she co-authored a study, The Spread of Swine Flu in Cities of Over One Million, which the United States government subsequently used as the basis of its urban outbreak preparedness strategy.” If that evidence doesn’t sway a reporter writing a story on swine flu, they’re not paying attention. Dr. Lawler is fictional, but the principle applies to every pitch. You’ve got to know the background and be prepared to present evidence to justify why your expert or story deserves attention.
After my “Life of Pi” essay, I penned a couple more misfires. My teacher continued to tutor me, and eventually those annoying red marks disappeared. Proofread for moments of telling like you proofread for misspelled words or grammar mistakes. When you find a “tell” sentence, replace it with a “show” sentence. Your writing, pitching, and maybe even your joke-telling skills will be a lot more convincing, compelling – and, in the case of a joke, funny.
The “Life of Pi” trailer is a perfect example of “show, don’t tell.” There are no words, and it makes me cry every time I watch it. Did I mention I love the book yet?
Suddenly our presentation on crisis management came to life as reporters and helicopters surrounded our client’s property.
Since I was still in my first month as an account coordinator with Schroder PR, I jumped on the chance to tag along to a presentation last Friday. It was a crisis presentation being presented during an employee-training day for a client. Little did I know, the day held a larger lesson on crisis communications than what was included in the PowerPoint.
We entered the presentation room at 10 a.m., where around 100 of the client’s employees sat with their choice from the continental breakfast bar and listened to a presentation on worker’s comp. I could see in the listener’s faces that this would be an easy act to follow. The speaker closed, the room applauded, and the attendees scurried out for a recess while Chris Schroder and Mary Nevaire Marsh prepared. I grabbed an open seat in the front, next to the client, and waited for the show to begin.
At 10:30 on the dot, it was show time. Since I had taken a case studies course in college on crisis communications, I anticipated this presentation to be primarily a review. However, I quickly realized this presentation had a credibility my professors did not: Someone that had dealt with crisis communications. Chris, a former reporter and editor, explained to the audience how to deal with media from an informed perspective on what the media is looking for when they ask questions.
The presentation was going swimmingly. The room nodded to agree on several occasions and I joined them with a look of, “that’s a great point, why have I never thought of that?” on more occasions. The laughter was on cue and audience participation was abundant. I was enjoying the group-participation exercise – in which a member of the audience is put in front of a camera and asked prospective questions from a reporter on a crisis situation that the audience creates in an improv setting – when the client tapped me on the shoulder.
As he leaned in and covered his mouth with his hand, he said, “You aren’t going to believe the irony, but I have to leave because a ‘situation’ has come up. Please tell Chris to call me as soon as he finishes the presentation.”
I took his number down and watched him leave as the audience roared with laughter from the improv exercise. I can’t tell you what was on the last three slides because I was busy playing possible crisis scenarios in my head, but after the last one had been put on the projector and the audience applauded, I knew it was go time. The first chance I got, I relayed the information.
We left the Georgia World Congress Center and called the client from the car. He was slightly flustered as he explained the incident that had his leaving early. He was on-site at one of his building properties where a shooting had taken place nearby. As he named off the media outlets that were already on the scene – including TV trucks and overhead helicopter – we agreed to join him on-site.
I felt as if I had just gotten my first police respondent call over a police radio. Chris scanned the radio stations in the car and we listened for reports on the incident. We all took to our smart phones and iPads and scrolled through the news headlines, Twitter feeds, and Facebook pages to see what stories had broken. With our quick car research and our other team member at the office sending updates, we arrived to the scene informed and prepared to take action.
I watched Chris exchange business cards with the media personnel on the scene and he promised to be back in touch as soon as possible with a statement. As Mary Nevaire and I got an update from the client based on the preliminary police findings, we typed out two statements – one for the media and one for our client’s email list. The incident had virtually no relation to the client except for proximity. A nearby home invasion resulted in three people being shot by the homeowner and the perpetrators escaped in a car that crashed adjacent to our client’s property. Initial media reports erroneously identified our client’s property as the scene of the botched home invasion.
At first, I thought like the client, “This really doesn’t have to do with us so why try to tie ourselves in?” But Chris thought otherwise.
He explained the importance of being proactive and accurate. Since the incident had little to do with the client, we had to be proactive and ensure that the media was accurate in conveying this. We also had to make sure we took advantage of the positive opportunities that were presented to us: it was one of our client’s security officers who had chased and rounded up the suspects in the incident.
The PowerPoint presentations’ ideas were in full swing as we followed up with the appropriate media based on the new information. We ensured that the media had accurate information and presented our client as an additional, obliging source, should he be needed. We then carried out our obligations to the client’s constituents and informed everyone appropriate of the accurate information by email and printed letter.
The subsequent media report of the incident that we prepared for the client proved our efforts were successful. For me, it was a thorough lesson in crisis communications from the classroom-setting presentation to real-life application. It may have been a whirlwind of a day at the end of my second week on the job, but as I’m learning in PR, it’s just another day at the “office.”
– Bailee Bowman, SchroderPR.com
Bailee Bowman is an account coordinator at Schroder Public Relations and has a Bachelor of Arts in Communications-Public Relations from Mississippi State University.
History Repeats Itself
Posted on July 2, 2012
In April 2010, I was taking a class called, “Case Studies and Ethics in PR” as part of the undergraduate public relations program at Auburn. It was one of the toughest and most memorable classes I’ve ever taken.
Coincidentally, we had just studied the Exxon Valdez oil spill that had occurred March 24, 1989, when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico killing 11 workers and causing an oil spill that soon became the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. News coverage of it was the subject of the pilot episode of the new HBO series, The Newsroom.
In Exxon’s case, we learned in class, the oil giant’s leadership was slow to respond, failed to show concern, failed to respond to activists, and, overall, did a terrible job involving the media. I was one-year-old at the time, but I’m sure everywhere those watching at the time looked, they saw images of little penguins, seals and other wildlife covered in oil. (In fact, Dawn still shows similar images today as it proved to be the most successful cleaning agent for the affected Alaskan wildlife.)
When news broke on the April 20, 2010 oil spill, I assumed BP’s PR team would know exactly how to proceed. After all the scrutiny Exxon received in 1989, public relations should have been their second thought upon learning of this terrible disaster (obviously, safety being their first).
I was shocked to watch as BP deflected the blame of the disaster, continually downplayed the damage and barely apologized for anything. Social media exploded – a fake BP PR professional account was created and believed to be true. “BPGlobalPR” tweeted things like, “We are not killing animals in the gulf, we are creating fossils in the gulf. Have a little perspective. #bpcares.”
If only BP would have remembered the old Latin proverb: A wise man learns by the mistakes of others, a fool by his own. Suffice it to say, BP did not control the conversation.
If you weren’t fortunate enough to take such a course during your schooling, I recommend reading a few case studies. There are examples in each of these history lessons that demonstrate “best” and “worst” practices. An important thing to remember however is that news travels faster each day.
Johnson & Johnson will forever be praised for their swift reaction to the Tylenol crisis of 1982, but in actuality the CEO’s response came about 30 days later. That would never be acceptable in today’s world of online news, breaking updates and Twitter.
Not all case studies involve crises. One case study that I often recall when planning campaigns is the launch of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park. When Universal Studios went to launch, they only told seven people. That’s right, seven. Not just any seven though – the seven most influential Harry Potter bloggers. These bloggers were given an exclusive webinar, putting them face-to-face time with the creators and designers.
Within 24 hours, approximately 350 million people had heard of the magical park through trusted referrals. You really can’t buy that. From this, I learned that if you want to spread the word – join the conversation. Find out where your target audience is talking and engage. Your campaign will be much more effective when you engage where your target where it is already talking rather than trying to move them over to your conversation.
That way, you might avoid being a case study that students read about in future college classes.
Now what? On the front lines of the job war
Posted on June 12, 2012
As everyone knows, it is more difficult than ever to find a job. Even the most qualified candidates are being turned down due to the economic pressures facing most companies today.
I was very blessed to find a job I love, but I receive emails, texts, tweets and Facebook messages daily from friends seeking advice on finding a job. I’m no expert, but I have compiled a few helpful hints that I have seen work time and time again.
Firstly, build your personal brand. I hear stories each day about more employers turning to social media when hunting down their next employee. In my opinion, this is even more so in the public relations field. Most public relations professionals have at least the basic knowledge of social media sites and are ready to employ them to narrow the candidate pool. Keep your LinkedIn profile up-to-date with your most recent resume items, but don’t stop there. Use LinkedIn’s tools to research companies that are hiring and even apply through LinkedIn.
I also think Twitter and Facebook can be great tools in the job search. Mary Elizabeth Kidd, with whom I worked while interning, followed Green Olive Media on Twitter. Once the firm tweeted it was looking to hire, she immediately applied and now has her dream job. Follow companies to which you are interested in applying and try to reach out to people already employed there, if possible.
If you’re using Twitter to tweet offensive language and pictures of keg stands, maybe keep your Twitter account private.
When building your personal brand, your resume plays an important role. While it is important to show you unique selling proposition, it’s more important to be honest. (We all saw what just happened to former Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson.) Use active verbs and be as descriptive as possible.
After your personal brand is ready – network. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Right? Utilize your professors, school alumni, fraternity and sorority alumni, your parents friends, your mailperson … anyone and everyone you can. I was a little hesitant to reach out to complete strangers, but found that most people are very ready and willing to help in any way they can. Most of the emails I get are from classmates and younger members of Pi Beta Phi, and I try my hardest to help them all!
If you don’t know anyone or you’ve exhausted your resources, don’t worry. There are many other networking opportunities all over. I attended PRSA and HAPPO (Help a PR Pro Out) events while still in school and made many valuable contacts. I didn’t know what to expect when I made the drive from Auburn to Atlanta to attend networking events, but I knew it would be worth it. I remember walking into Front Page News in Midtown for a HAPPO event my senior year and almost shaking because I was so nervous. In the first 10 minutes I was relaxed and speaking with the most interesting PR pros here in Atlanta – and they were chock full of advice.
There may not be events available during your search, but you can still employ these great resources. HAPPO has a tab designated to openings, and PRSA has an eNewsletter, site and Twitter account that post jobs hourly. You may not find your dream job in the first hour, but if you check these and similar sites often, you just might find the right opportunity.
When my internship was coming to a close, I did everything I could to find a job. I eventually found Schroder PR by conducting a Google search for public relations firms in Atlanta. Schroder PR was one of the first to show, so I did a little research. I saw that there were no immediate openings, but I still emailed Chris Schroder and he was kind enough to grant me an informative meeting. The rest, as “they” say is history. This happens all the time.
Maybe the company you think you’ll love isn’t hiring, but you should still meet with them. PR practitioners tend to know people employed at other firms, and they could make a connection for you. If anything, they can give advice on your next steps.
My last bit of advice is don’t get discouraged. I know it’s tough out there, but everything happens for a reason. Be the best candidate you can be, and you’ll land that perfect job in no time! If there’s anything I can do to help – please email me, or comment below!
- Sarah Funderburk
5 tips on office etiquette
Posted on May 21, 2012
Disclaimer: This may or may not have been inspired by Schroder PR’s recent move to Historic Rhodes Hall. If you’ve never been inside the Atlanta landmark, you’re missing out.
Your first job in public relations has a lot of new and exciting opportunities to conquer. One of these is something many people overlook – how to behave in an office atmosphere.
This is a touchy subject, because every office is different. Some offices are business casual, some business professional. Here are five general tips to start you off in your new job or internship:
In the world of public relations, email is the most efficient way to keep up with clients, colleagues and journalists – but it is often misused. PR Daily released “15 tips to refine your email etiquette” recently, and while some were common sense, others made me take a closer look at what I was sending. I won’t list all of them here, but it’s definitely worth checking out. We’ve all heard horror stories about hitting “Reply All” instead of “Reply” or sending funny emails to coworkers that actually insult others, so be sure to pay attention and really consider every email you send.
- Another tip is to respond in a timely manner. If you can’t respond right away, you have no idea how much people appreciate you letting them know that you are still “researching their request and will get back to them within a certain time frame.” Trust me on this one. At first I didn’t want to be a bother and send an email telling the recipient that I would send them another email, but it is courteous and lets them know you aren’t ignoring them.
- Also, it’s important to figure out what the preferred company email format is in the beginning. Most companies address the receiver with Hello, Good morning/afternoon/evening or Hi. Starting an email with “Hey” or something else not accepted by your company may make your clients or boss uncomfortable.
For workplace fashion, go with the crowd. My first day of both my internships, and then my job – I overdressed. It didn’t bother me, because it was my first day, and I hadn’t had the chance to see what “fit the workplace.” I say, use the boss, or at least your superior, to see how to dress. Business casual doesn’t mean flip-flops, but it also doesn’t require suits and tights every day. Dressing too formally in a casual workplace is just as bad as dressing too casually in a formal workplace. With that said, even if you’re allowed to wear jeans everyday, you should still dress in meeting attire when you’ll see clients.
- If you have a job or an internship, you should have some sense of professionalism. This encompasses a lot of things in my opinion. One thing I can think of is having common courtesy. Simply be respectful of your coworkers – their time, their space and their privacy. Regulate cell phone usage. Don’t handle personal interest at work. Use your time wisely. Don’t shop online at work and just be mature. There are many more, but use common sense and mirror the actions of your superiors. “Dress” (or in this case behave) for the job you want, right?
- Don’t ask coworkers how to spell.
This is funny, but serious. If there’s something you can figure out on your own, please do it. Use spellcheck, Google it or look in your emails. There are no stupid questions, but there are some that flirt with that line. DO ask questions concerning clients and protocol, especially if you’re new. If you’re thinking of sending a question that can be answered with a “Let me Google that for you” response, you may want to think again.
- Be a team player.
- I think this may be the most important office etiquette tip, because how you interact with your coworkers can affect how you work. This tip is a supertip, because it contains a lot of sub-tips.
- Don’t gossip or be catty about others you work with.
- Believe it or not, you can learn something from everyone in your office. Don’t hold back your own ideas, but listen to others’ and collaborate with them on projects.
- Also, don’t be the last to enter and first to leave work everyday.
- Take responsibility for mistakes, apologize and move on.
- And never ever clash with coworkers in front of a client – you’ll both come off as unprofessional.
- I think this may be the most important office etiquette tip, because how you interact with your coworkers can affect how you work. This tip is a supertip, because it contains a lot of sub-tips.
This short list does not by any means cover all the office etiquette tips needed, but it’s a start. If you only take one thing away from this post, let it be this: Be considerate of people around you – remember that they are trying to work! Oh, and don’t bring anything stinky for lunch. What tips would you add?
- Sarah Funderburk
6 things mom taught me that I apply to PR
Posted on May 13, 2012
I spent this past Sunday celebrating Mother’s Day with my mom in Tallassee, AL. That prompted me to think of a few things mom has told me over the years that I now apply to my career in PR. I’m sure your mom told you some of the same things, but if not, please comment below and let me know what you’d add!
- I have three sisters, and I’m one of the middle ones. My mother probably told me to share my toys, clothes and everything else a billion times. Now, I use this concept in my career. Share content. This applies not only to clients and press releases – that’s obvious, but also sharing relevant, interesting and helpful information about everything else. In a recent Rutgers webinar about writing for social media, I learned that 80 percent of social media posts are “me now” posts. That means starting a tweet with “I” or making about something you dislike/like – and that’s fine. Next time, though, try Angela Maiers 70/20/10 test.
- 70 percent of your posts should be sharing relevant, interesting or funny information
- Such as tips, speeches, this blog entry …
- 20 percent should be connecting
- If you look at your 10 most recent tweets and not one of them mention someone else, you’re not engaging your audience enough
- 10 percent can be chirps
- Tell me about your day, but only once every 10 tweets, please.
- “The Golden Rule”
- No, not “He who makes the gold, makes the rules,” but “treat others as you would like to be treated.” I utilize this rule when dealing with the media, clients, colleagues and audiences. When a reporter or client wants something, I get it done – that’s what I’d want to happen. I also try to be mindful of the reporter’s deadline and that they have lots of other stories to juggle. I also think about my audience when sharing information. If I were the one being marketed to, how would I feel? This simple elementary school rule can really change how you are perceived in the world, in my opinion.
- “Those who don’t read, work for someone who does.”
- When I was in kindergarten, I won a grade-wide reading competition and got to help shave Principal Roberts’ beard. (In retrospect, what were they thinking? I was 5 years old!) I am so thankful mom instilled a love of reading in me at an early age, and I still completely agree with this mantra. I’ve said it in earlier PR 101 posts, PR practitioners have to read/watch/listen to the reporters/producers/bloggers to whom we pitch. Also, it’s a good idea to stay up-to-date with current events anyway. Understanding what’s happening in the world, in your target industries and in your community will make you better at your job; it might even inspire fresh content.
- Be honest.
- The other day I told someone I worked for a PR firm. His response (I couldn’t make this up) was, “Oh, so you like work for cigarette and other morally corrupt companies and try to make them seem OK to the public?” I thought public relations being perceived as “spin” was outdated, but I guess that perception lingers. Encouraging transparency in your clients and in your own life is the best practice. Being proactive is also a good technique to avoid bad situations. There are so many case studies that show us that trying to keep a problem hidden from the public almost never works, so just give it up.
- “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.”
- We’ve all heard this one. Fell off your bike? Can’t get the French braid just right? Well, brush it off and try again. Well, now we can ride bikes, French braid and throw the perfect spiral, but we can still apply this to our lives and careers. There are some stories that don’t get published right away, so we have to be persistent and revisit them later or perhaps explore a new angle. There are some backgrounders that I cannot get right at all, so instead of getting frustrated, I have to just put it away and come back to it later. I know that there will be times that the brilliant PR plan I created just doesn’t show the results I expected, but even if I failed miserably I can’t mope about it – I just have to come up with a new plan and try again. Everyone makes mistakes, but we have to just try harder next time.
- Use your manners.
- Even though I’m 24, mom still scolds me if I am ever the slightest bit impolite to someone, whether I think I am or not. I’m glad, though, because we all need to mind our manners in every facet of life. I’ve heard so many horror stories about divas and other employees that are hard to work with and I don’t understand it. “Please and thank you, they’re called the magic words” – we all remember that song, right? For social media etiquette tips, please refer back to the SoMe Etiquette post.
Thank you all so much reading, and please feel free to share with your friends.
– Sarah Funderburk
Posted on April 24, 2012
I handle a few social media (SoMe) accounts for Schroder PR, and I’m learning a few things as I go. My friends think posting to clients’ Twitter and other social media sites is the easiest part of my job, but that’s far from the truth. A PR Daily article recently summed it up nicely:
“Your friends probably think you spend all day on Facebook sharing cool things, pinning pretty stuff on Pinterest and retweeting about Happy Hour. What they don’t see is that your client just called you and demanded a Facebook promotion with a minimum of 100 entries …”
It’s much harder to speak for a client than on your personal pages, and we’ve all seen stories of interns and social media managers alike posting on client pages when they thought they were posting on their personal page – remember the Barneys New York fiasco?
So here are 5 tips that I’ve assembled. These are general social media etiquette rules, but they can also be applied to managing clients’ account.
1) As a personal rule, I only “friend” actual friends on Facebook. I’m all for fueling social interaction, but some members of the media may think it’s creepy if you friend them and start commenting on family vacation photos. Follow them on Twitter, fan their Facebook brand page and even follow them on LinkedIn – don’t send them one press release and think y’all are friends.
2) Chris Brogan wrote a nice article about social media etiquette in which he covered seven topics. I’ll paraphrase:
- It’s OK to let the competition follow you, and it’s OK to follow the competition. (I actually recommend it! Keep your friends close, right?)
- Listening is important and commenting is important. Be the #1 commenter on your blog, but it’s OK to not comment back for every single comment you receive.
- If you’re writing about a client on your personal page, add (client) to the tweet/post/update/blog comment.
- Promote others, and it’s much more likely people will help promote you when it’s your turn.
3) Treat each network separately. This is a pet peeve of mine. It’s OK to tell all the networks the same thing, just don’t make it a one-stop entry. Facebook allows as many characters as your heart desires, Twitter does not. I will not click on the link in my Twitter feed that directs me to the rest of your Facebook post. It may take more time, but it is far less irritating to see messages that are tailored to a specific network.
- Also, I understand linking your Facebook and Twitter, I do – you’re busy and you want all of your friends and followers to know it. But on brand pages, I think your clients prefer putting your best foot forward, and in my opinion – tailor-made drafts for each network is the way to go.
4) Holly Grande wrote a great article on Cookerly PR’s PeRceptions blog, “Is Social Media Etiquette Necessary?” She began with the very question that I’ve wondered at least a dozen times, ‘when someone retweets you, should you thank them, or should you ignore it?’ Her commentary boiled down to two (very wise) words: do good.
“Be considerate in your posts, thank someone if you feel like you ought to thank them, engage followers in a conversation, but – most importantly – tweet the way you want to be tweeted.”
5) Write professionally. Remember: Your social media presence is an extension of your business persona – or in some cases your client’s brand. Proper grammar and spelling helps you maintain credibility and a professional image. If I tweeted “LOL! OMG! Schroder PR wants 2 work 4 u! #winning” from Schroder PR’s Twitter account, I’d probably lose my tweeting privileges. I know you only have 140 characters, and you want to save characters for retweeting, but try – please try – to at least use the proper grammar, like the correct forms of their, they’re and there.
Please just use SoMe sense when you’re posting, whether it’s personally or for a client. Here are a few links to other interesting articles on the topic:
- Fox Small Business Center: “What Bosses are Saying about Social Media Etiquette”
- Boston Globe: “Learning social media etiquette”
- PR Daily: “10 tips to master Twitter etiquette”
<em>- Sarah Funderburk </em>
Five Tips for Starting Out In Media Relations
Posted on March 27, 2012
This week’s entry is a little selfish. In my quest to become a well-rounded PR practitioner, I’ve realized that one skill is not fully developed: Media Relations. I’ve dealt with members of the media in the year that I’ve been in the field, but I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered media relations. So, this week I’ve researched pitching and other media relations tips to make you and me better.
OK – you’ve just finished this amazing press release and now comes the time to distribute to the media. How are you going to distinguish your client’s story from the other hundred stories that reporter just got? It’s all about how you pitch.
1) First, like Collin said in our “Meet the Media: Atlanta INtown” entry a few weeks ago, know the publication in which you’re submitting. After building a targeted media list of the publications that may have an interest in what you’re pitching and determining which journalist you should be talking to at those publications, read a few articles the journalist has published lately. This will offer valuable insight into his or her professional interests and areas of journalistic expertise. It’s always best to only send relevant, timely information to journalists who you’ll probably submit to again. You don’t want to send a story about something the journalist covered yesterday!
2) Next, develop relationships. (Oh … media relations – got it!) Someone told me in the very beginning that you should know which journalists cover your clients’ industries – on a first name basis. One extremely easy way to get the conversation started is via social media. I follow so many journalists on Twitter. I try to reply to their tweets and not just hit the “Retweet” button every now and then. (This could quickly turn into a social media etiquette post, but I’ll save that for another time.) You should also network as much as possible. Go to Atlanta Press Club events or any business association meetings or socials. I recently met a few journalists at a Buckhead Business Association breakfast. Breakfast, networking and hearing Ed Baker speak? Not a bad way to start the day. (Invite journalists for coffee, lunch, drinks or anything and just get to know them and their journalistic interests.)
3) As a general life rule (I can give life rules now – I’m 24 years old), I recommend finding a mentor. I’m lucky enough to work in a small firm where I can interact with my boss daily; therefore he can pass on his wisdom to us easily. Probably the first piece of advice Chris gave me was the first time he edited a press release I had written. As a journalist turned PR practitioner, Chris knows what journalists look for when emails pop in their inbox. “Write like a journalist.” If you were the journalist receiving this email, would you read it or press delete? Well, I’m pretty sure he would’ve deleted my first draft, but instead he reminded me to write releases and even emails in inverted-pyramid style – news at the top. You can’t wait until the second paragraph to get your news hook in; if you do the journalist will most assuredly trash it. In emails, you have to hook journalists in the subject line.
4) Do your research. Know and respect deadlines. As soon as a journalist gets a story assignment, the countdown to deadline begins – and there’s no option of getting an extension. Be sure to have all the information and images to journalists as far in advance as you can.
5) Never mass pitch a story idea. Try to customize each individual pitch. Also, know the unique differences between pitching newspapers, TV, radio and blogs.
– For example, because TV emphasizes visuals, you should look for stories and angles that permit interesting or engaging video footage. TV news producers and editors like action, especially fast-paced action. They also favor stories with a local twist. Try and localize your story – make the news relevant and appealing geographically to the television station concerned.
Media relations is both an art and a science. I’ve been told it gets easier with practice, but it always requires research, creativity, finding the real news or story hook, persuasiveness and, most importantly, tenacity.
Here are some links that I found particularly interesting pertaining to media relations:
PR 101: Internships
When it comes to public relations, the old adage, “You’ll never know until you try,” is right. The best way to start in this field is to look for an internship. With so many facets of the field, one can be overwhelmed choosing a sector to join. Some specific disciplines include, but are not limited to:
- Financial public relations
- Consumer/Lifestyle public relations
- Crisis public relations
- Industry public relations
- Government relations
Each of these sections under the PR umbrella has multiple subsections. PR professionals come from many fields of study, but certain majors and minors may be necessary for specific industries, i.e., a minor in finance on your résumé will probably be helpful if you’re heading into an internship at William Mills Agency.
There are countless stories of students changing their majors after an internship turned out differently than expected. Sometimes the change is less drastic, as with Jon Krampel. After an internship at a music PR firm, he realized the office environment wasn’t for him, and he felt much more comfortable at his next internship, working with a booking agent at a music venue.
If you think public relations internships are carbon copies of each other, you’re wrong. Internships can range from reading scripts and correlating auditions at Focus Features in Los Angeles, like Kristina Emerson, to writing blogs and updating social media for Starworks in New York City, just as Ashley Gilder did. Many people take advantage of their internship to live somewhere new and get out of their same routine.
One of the advantages of interning is your foot is in the door of a future employer. While not all internships result in full-time employment, a good number of companies hire strictly from internship programs.
Brette Bennett is an Account Executive at Duffey Communications, Inc., located here in Atlanta. Before she was an AE though, she remembers arriving at the front door of Duffey Communications – 30 minutes early, of course – the day after her college graduation. Once hired, her next three months were filled with writing press releases and media alerts, pitching stories to media, monitoring for client and industry news, creating and implementing community relations programs, planning events … and much, much more. Brette recalled taking every task, though some were more glamorous than others, as a learning opportunity.
” The most useful task in helping me understand Duffey’s clients and their needs was monitoring news for client coverage and industry trends. Although simple, monitoring provided insight into the types of stories that garner coverage and gave me the foundation to be creative in generating new ideas for Duffey’s clients.”
Brette’s experience differed from other internships in Duffey’s use of “Buddies.” Her “Buddy,” or mentor for us on the outside, helped her prepare for new challenges and showed her the ins and outs of the office, from how to set up her voicemail to which trash cans were for recycled goods only. Through her buddy’s patience, understanding and trust, Brette quickly gained the confidence she needed to take chances, which inspired her to create programs for Duffey’s clients in her second month as an intern that are still in use today.
So, we know that there are many types of internships available. We also know that while not every internship leads to employment, any internship is a useful tool in becoming a successful PR practitioner. What we don’t know yet is what are internship coordinators looking for in an intern? Well, after surveying several internship listings nationwide, I’ve come up with a few hints.
- Detail oriented candidates. Be careful with this! Don’t put this on your resume and then put the wrong company in the email, as I saw at my internship. For example, don’t send your resume to Lara Bronstein at BRAVE Public Relations and type, “I’m very interested in an internship with The Reynolds Group” in the body of the email. I promise she’ll delete it. (A lucky bonus is that Lara and BRAVE PR is hiring interns who can begin in April, so email Lara today.)
- Interns can be responsible for researching and writing various press releases, e-Newsletter content, media alerts and social media posts. When sending your resume, include a few writing samples, but PLEASE have someone proofread them first. You will not be hired if you won’t even take the time to edit your samples.
- Good communication skills are a must in our field. Internships can include answering and fielding calls, meeting with clients and members of the media, contributing to staff meetings and conference calls, and possibly coordinating events. During the interview process, your communication skills will be on display, so practice with your friends, parents or in front of a camera – whatever it takes!
- A lot of internships don’t require knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite applications, but it doesn’t hurt. I have seen proficiency in Microsoft Office programs a requirement on 95 percent of listings.
Obviously, researching the firms you’re applying to is the best approach: have knowledge of company history, clients, services and key team members. Also, an interest in the company is beneficial for everyone involved. If you like (or are a die-hard fan of) the Falcons, apply for an internship with its PR/Marketing team, but if you don’t know the difference in a field goal and a touchdown – don’t even apply.
A few last thoughts, an internship may be paid or offer a stipend, or it may be unpaid, but I would suggest doing as many internships as possible. Some internships, and definitely all jobs, require at least one internship before consideration is given to an applicant. Clean up your Twitter and Facebook, or change your name on Facebook as one clever sorority sister of mine recently did before being offered an amazing internship opportunity at an Atlanta firm. Do your homework on firms you’re interested in applying to and find appropriate contacts to send resume and writing samples. Talk to your friends, professors, alumni… anyone who may know someone who could help. I know of so many fabulous PR pros that did a little research, found someone with a connection and got the internship. Internships are an essential learning experience and can create lasting contacts and references for future employment.
A few helpful links:
- Twitter. (Companies tweet when internships are available.)
– Sarah Funderburk
Looking at Differences between Agency PR versus Corporate PR
Posted on February 7, 2012 by Sarah
As per 101 style, today’s post is about a basic part of public relations: agency vs. corporate. I understand that in our current economy, we don’t always have the luxury to be picky about which positions we accept, but it’s still important to know the difference.
I’ll start with a disclaimer: my only “experience” with in-house PR is my social media internship with Auburn University’s Division of Student Affairs. However, I have researched the two aspects of our field when applying for jobs and when I decided to write this entry, and I’ve spoken about the pros/cons associated with each with several PR pros who have worked in both. So, since I know a little bit more about agency PR, I’ll start there.
While agency public relations is not for everyone, I have thoroughly enjoyed it. The first reason I enjoy agency PR is the most obvious difference between the two: variety. Agency practitioners are exposed to different clients in varying sectors, which has allowed me to work with everyone from architects to Broadway clients. There’s something fulfilling about working with a range of clients. I face new challenges everyday and although it can be stressful to keep track of projects, all it takes is organization and prioritizing to keep your head above water.
I imagine that agencies tend to work at a faster pace. Colleagues are constantly working on separate projects, jumping from one client to another. If you want to work in an agency, be sure you know how to juggle. It can be difficult to focus on one project at a time, but don’t lose sight of overall goals. Time management is essential in agencies.
The last reason I’ll mention is agencies can have as many or as few clients as they want. I’d guess that most agencies are always on the lookout for new clients, so there’s always an opportunity to work on a new exciting account and add to your resume.
On the other hand, PR professionals who work in-house have the opportunity to be more focused on overall strategy. Agency work can be separated by project, so it’s easy to focus more on each single goal rather than a company’s overall strategy.
Also, in a corporate environment, the expectation is that the team you work with will be your team for much longer than in an agency. The projects you take on and the responsibilities assigned and encountered have the potential to create lasting impressions of you and your abilities. So, basically it’s important to be in it for the long haul at a corporate firm. You may never know the thrill of a 12-hour turnaround on a make-it-or-break-it project for a client, but you will make a lasting impression with a focus on results and your contribution to the credibility of a team.
I take tremendous pride in my work and the results Schroder PR gets for our clients. But corporate PR is all about one brand, one company producing one set of results. Clients may come and go in an agency, but in corporate, that’s it. You are part of the company that needs the results. You see its successes and failures every day, firsthand. You’ll probably tend to be just a tad more prideful and more defensive or your brand.
Lastly, I think independence is a major factor in this great debate. At an agency, you may be in charge on certain accounts, campaigns or social media accounts. Essentially, you are responsible for your destiny. If you do well and deliver for your clients, you will get credit for your accomplishment, whether internally or from the client. In a corporate environment, it’s more deliberate and structured because everyone is thinking about how to help the company. Your goals will rely on the contributions you make to the team and others’ developments.
So while corporate PR may be repetitive to some, you frequently take a deeper dive into each project. And while you may have the chance to work independently more frequently in an agency, your colleagues will typically have a wide range of professional backgrounds and your office becomes a melting pot of ideas. There’s no concrete answer to which is better or worse, it just depends on the PR practitioner.
– Sarah Funderburk
It bothers me when people confuse their, there and they’re.
Posted on January 31, 2012
After last week’s discussion with Collin, I began thinking more about proofreading. It really is a basic tool that all public relations professionals have to utilize. Because good grammar is a necessity for our field, it bothers me that much more when I spot typos or hear someone use an adverb incorrectly. I wish everyone had to take the “Newspaper Fundamentals” course that I took at Auburn University that gave students spelling, word usage and AP style tests, or the grammar test I took before interviewing for my current position at Schroder Public Relations.
So, in an effort to prevent embarrassment for my fellow PR pros, this post is going to remind us of some common proofreading mistakes. We all know that even spell check doesn’t catch every slipup.
One of the most annoying errors I see is a sentence like this: “I’ll meet you their.” Wow. If I receive an email, or even a text, that misuses their, they’re and there, I cringe. Homonyms are tricky. Spell checker didn’t even put a squiggly green line under the mistake above, so it surely won’t notice if you use “no” instead of “know” or “two” instead of “too” or “to.”
Which brings me to word usage. Let’s start with more than vs. over. More than is preferred with numbers, while over generally refers to spatial elements. Someone once told me to think of the nursery rhyme, “The cow jumped over the moon.” That’s worked so far. Also, please remember that the phrase is more than … not then. Farther refers to physical distance, while further refers to an extension of time or degree. And AP says to use that and which in referring to inanimate objects or animals without names.
Toward never ends in an s. Also, according to Daily Writing Tips and me, “anyways” is a “colloquial corruption of ‘anyway.’ I know these are trivial things that are going to overcook some grits, but it’s (not its) important to go back to the basics sometimes. While we’re (not were) at the basics, the proper form of OK is just that, OK. “Okay,” “Ok” and “ok” should not be used according to AP style. (I know a certain editor at New South Publishing will be very happy I included that.)
I know that I have trouble with affect and effect, but a professor once told me just go with the one that sounds right. That obviously doesn’t always work, but just remember that most of the time, affect is a verb and effect is a noun. Or think of the aardvark. The arrow affected the aardvark. The effect was eye-popping.
I could go on for – four – days about other common mistakes, but we all see them everyday … and then point them out to anyone around. Hopefully this PR 101 entry will make you double check all releases and emails before pressing send.
Here are some helpful sites … and some examples of mistakes you don’t want to make:
– Sarah Funderburk
PR 101 with Atlanta INtown
Posted on January 25, 2012
In this ever-changing world of public relations, one thing is constant: we need journalists just as badly as they need good PR people. In an effort to find out the best way to keep happy those nice professionals whose inboxes get barraged with our press releases, I sat down with Collin Kelley, editor of Atlanta INtown to see if he had any tips for PR pros.
Unafraid to hurt my feelings, Collin started listing all of the things he hated about PR practitioners… just kidding. Collin actually had some basic advice that may get lost in the hustle and bustle of our days.
“You don’t know how many times I’ll receive a press release with the wrong information,” he said. “I know we are all busy, but honestly just proofreading your release one more time, and then making sure you’ve included a name, date, website and contact information will go a long way with journalists.”
Another tidbit of advice from Collin: read the publications (or watch/listen to the shows) to which you are submitting releases. Seems pretty obvious right? Sending stories that journalists will actually want to write about should be right up there with how to format a release, yet media lists can be deceiving. Think you’ve got the next big story featuring your client? Not if the paper ran a story about the same concept last month, week or even worse, yesterday. Even more flagrant an offense would be if the publication doesn’t cover your region, discuss your topic or reach your target market.
So, know what and to whom you are sending your releases!
Once you have updated your lists and proofread your release, you’re ready to send! Remember, following up is good, but don’t be annoying.
“I will get a release and then a minute later, the PR practitioner will call me to see if I got it,” said Collin. “I’m glad they’re following-up, but honestly an email will suffice. If I need anymore information, I’ll contact you.”
A few days after interviewing the great staff at Atlanta INtown, I was about to send Kelley a release about one of our clients. Considering I had just received all of this great advice, I employed Kelley’s tips. Of course, I found a spelling error in the first sentence of the pitch. I fixed the typo, silently thanked Kelley, pressed send and I’d like to think when he received my email—and only an email—he thanked me too.
– Sarah Funderburk
Sarah Funderburk is an account coordinator at Schroder Public Relations and a graduate of Auburn University with a degree in public relations.