By Susan Rink, President and Owner of Rink Strategic Communications, LLC
Throughout my career, I have been blessed with mentors and role models who have taken time to provide guidance, wisdom, a sympathetic ear and – upon occasion – hard truths to help me along. So as I have graduated into a “senior practitioner” role, I am deeply committed to sharing my experiences with those who are just starting out on their PR adventures. To me, it is both a way to give back to my profession and to invest in its future.
Over the past 10 years, I must have spoken to more than 100 college PR/Communications classes at American University, George Mason University, George Washington University, Johns Hopkins University and most recently, the University of North Carolina – Charlotte.
While my topics have ranged from crisis communications and strategic planning to “The Wacky World of an Internal Communications Professional,” the topic that drives the most engagement with both undergraduate and graduate students is, “How to Survive Your First Year in the Workplace.”
The reason for that is simple: Most colleges and universities are focused on building professional toolkits, with emphasis on research, measurement and strategy. But even professors who have come from the “real world” of PR don’t have time in their lesson plans to provide useful tips for dealing with workplace politics, finding a mentor or advocate, and dealing with the realities of today’s workplace. And that’s a darn shame.
Some of the topics I cover in my workplace survival presentation include:
As you can see from the list, these tips could apply to just about any profession. That’s not a coincidence, since some of them come from my work experiences prior to moving into PR/Communications. I’m sure that as you read this list, you are thinking of your own survival tips and what you might share with a group of young professionals.
Which leads me to this piece of advice: Get out there and tell your story. The young men and women who are preparing to enter the workplace are eager and willing to hear how they can survive and succeed in their careers. They are looking for someone like you to share knowledge and experience with them.
If public speaking isn’t your thing, that’s fine. Reach out to the young professionals in your organization and offer to mentor or guide them. They will appreciate your time and your wisdom, and best of all, you may even learn something new from these bright young minds. Like what the heck Snapchat is and how to use it.
About the Author
Susan C. Rink is president and owner of Rink Strategic Communications, LLC, which helps their clients talk to and listen to their employees during times of change. Her clients range from global technology, retail, manufacturing and hospitality companies to professional associations and “think tanks.” Prior to forming Rink Strategic Communications in 2007, Susan spent more than two decades in employee communication leadership positions with Nextel Communications and Marriott International. A long-time resident of the Washington, DC, area and former chair of PRSA-NCC’s Independent PR Alliance, Susan recently relocated to South Carolina where she is learning to drive faster, speak slower and cook really good grits.
By Ann Wylie, president, Wylie Communications
Famous story about a PR pitch gone bad: A PR pro at Warner-Lambert Company calls an editor at Inc. magazine. When, she asks, is Inc. going to run that story she pitched on W-L’s new flavor of Trident gum?
The editor explains that Inc. is a magazine for entrepreneurs and that every story the magazine runs is designed to help its readers build their businesses. Given that, the editor asks the PR pro, why would our readers be interested in a story about Trident?
The PR pro replies: “They chew gum, don’t they?”
With pitches like these, it’s no wonder journalists’ biggest pet peeves are releases that aren’t relevant to the audiences they serve, according to a survey by Greentarget.
So how can we write relevant releases?1. Write about the reader.
A few years ago, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch did a study to learn who or what was most important to readers.Get the word out with media relations
Would you like to learn to develop story ideas that readers want to read and that media outlets want to run? If so, please join Ann Wylie at NOT Your Father’s News Release — a two-day PR-writing workshop on Oct. 17-18 in Washington, D.C.
“Their answer was in some ways surprising. Many did not say their families, children or God,” writes Dick Weiss, former writer and editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Instead, their answer was: ‘Me.’”
If that’s what reporters’ readers care about, that’s what reporters care about too.
“What I really like about a [release],” a trade journal editor told Public Relations Tactics, “is when it scratches my reader’s itch and not your client’s itch.”
So write about the reader. Not about “us and our stuff.”
More than half of business-to-business editors surveyed seek more feature releases, according to a study by Thomas Rankin Associates. Those include value-added stories like case studies and how-to stories.
Greentarget learned the same thing in its study: Journalists find releases that contain thought leadership — surveys, tipsheets, case studies, etc. — most valuable.
As Bruce Upbin, senior editor at Forbes, counsels: “Present the key element … that explains how your story can benefit Forbes readers.”
And yet, PR pros persist in writing about themselves.
“I recently got a message from a reporter working at a small local paper who received 80 press releases in one day,” writes digital communications strategist Jeremy Porter, “of which only two were relevant to the information his paper covers.”
Keep doing this, and we’ll be as successful as Warner-Lambert with its Inc. pitch.
Even if they do chew gum.
About the Author
Ann Wylie works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. Learn more about her training, consulting or writing and editing services. Get more writing tips when you subscribe to Ann’s free ezine.
By Joseph Davis
Recently, I was having a spirited conversation (mostly my spirit) with a fellow communications colleague about what constitutes successful communications strategy. My main question was “How are you approaching the strategy of communicating effectively?”
This broad question begged for specifics. So, my next question was, “Does your organization currently have a communications plan in place?” And my colleague replied, “Of course!” And, I followed up, “What does it look like, what’s in it?”
In what I can only describe as a full-throated description (see defense) of their organizational communications plan, the colleague said, “Well, we created a full year’s project calendar, including all the social media tools we planned to use—and even developed evergreen posts for them!” They were obviously proud.
“Wait,” I said. “That’s it?” “Yep, pretty much,” they said. This led me to think: exactly how many other communicators essentially have no tangible communications plan for their company, client(s) or organization? And, furthermore, how many know what should be included? I imagine we would have subsequently discussed what was essential in a plan—had I not awkwardly ended the conversation staring blankly at them.
Before building a communications plan, you have to understand what it is NOT:
As we know, every organization is different, and needs vary, so there’s rarely a one-size-fits-all approach to communications planning. With that in mind, there are general guidelines for forming a proper plan.
What a communications plan INCLUDES:
A communications plan acts as a guide for all of your communications initiatives. It establishes what is considered success for you (the communicator), your organization or your client. And it outlines a process of planning and implementation.
Your communications plan should highlight three clear aspects:
I define this as the actionable output directly related to your organizational mission.
What is it you’re aiming to achieve, ultimately? This should be measurable.
How will you achieve your goals and, therefore, successfully reach your objective? This is your broad outlook for everything you plan to accomplish—your vision, if you will.
Here is what is generally in a communications plan:
Strategizing on the most effective way to communicate ideas and value should be at the forefront of everything we do. Most communicators know this. If you need some tips on building your communications strategy, visit the PRSA Learning webpage. Since I enjoy asking questions, I have one more—do you have a communications plan?
About the Author
Joseph Davis works in Communications for the City of Alexandria Department of Community and Human Services.
By Brigitte W. Johnson, APR, Lecturer, Georgetown School of Continuing Studies
As members of PRSA, we are bound by a set of principles and guidelines that provide our ethical framework. The PRSA Code of Ethics sets the standard for the ethical practice of public relations. Have you ever thought what we would do as public relations practitioners if we did not have this code of ethics?
I have. I think about the derogatory words sometimes used to describe our profession – flack, spinmeisters, truth-twisters – and tell myself these terms do not apply to PRSA members. I cringe at the thought of being called a spinmeister. My job is not to spin the truth but to tell the truth. Additionally, we perform our work adhering to a code of ethics. These ethics set us apart from others who may operate under the public relations umbrella.
As an adjunct professor and now as a full-time lecturer, I tell my students that many people say they do public relations, but what separates us from this broader group is our membership in the world’s largest association dedicated to public relations practitioners and our ethics. But is the PRSA Code of Ethics the only element that sets us apart? I don’t think so. In addition to the PRSA Code of Ethics, what about your personal code of ethics?
Each of us should have our personal code of ethics. Our personal ethics are shaped by our belief system, our families and our interaction with others. For most of us in our profession, our personal ethical code closely aligns with PRSA’s Code of Ethics. Without question, I believe in honesty, loyalty, independence and fairness. I constantly seek to improve my skills and expertise. And through my clients and employers, I serve the greater good – the public interest – and provide a voice for viewpoints, facts and ideas.
If you remember the television show, “What Would You Do?” ask yourself what would you do if your personal and professional ethics clashed? As I reflect on my career in public relations, I once found myself in the situation where my personal ethics conflicted with the professional PRSA Code of Ethics. Although, the company operations were ethical and legal, my personal ethics code took issue with the overall industry and its commitment to the greater good. In this case, I found myself with limited choices. I tried in vain to find a place with less conflict but I was unsuccessful. In the end, I realized I just could not give all I had to offer professionally, and I found another position in an industry that was better aligned with my personal ethics.
If you encounter a situation where your personal and professional ethics conflict, you do not have to go it alone. PRSA has resources and counseling to help. Contact the PRSA Board of Ethics and Professional Standards or the PRSA-NCC Ethics Committee.
About the Author
Brigitte W. Johnson, APR, is a 21-year member of the PRSA-NCC and served as chapter president in 2011. She has 20+ years of experience in public relations, communications and marketing. Her focus is primarily nonprofits – forestry, education, youth development, affordable housing and public health. In 2016, she joined Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies as a lecturer in the public relations corporate communication track. She is a native Washingtonian who enjoys days at the beach, a hike in the woods, all things college sports, film studies, reading and collecting first edition books.
By Jen Bemisderfer
I recently attended commencement ceremonies for my alma matter, North Carolina State University. As I sat, waiting for thousands of graduates to stream to their seats inside the arena, I thought back to my own graduation, nearly 20 years ago. To be honest, I didn’t remember much about the day. Who was the speaker? What advice did they deliver? How did I feel? Was I excited? Scared?
For what is supposed to be one of life’s biggest milestones, my memory was fuzzy. What I do remember – clearly – is the first day of my first job. The first day of the rest of my life. I’d had internships in college, but this was different. I had a salary! Healthcare! A 401k! And lots to learn about building a successful career in PR.
For all the new graduates who will be flooding in to the National Capital Area ready to tackle the first day of the rest of YOUR lives, I wanted to share a few tips I’ve learned along the way, as well as some advice from my colleagues at RH Strategic Communications – many of whom have been in your shoes more recently!Cultivate your network.
You might not know it, but you already have a network. Stay in touch with your professors, your friends from PRSSA and your internship supervisors. Even if you’re making a leap to a brand-new city, make the effort to stay connected. As you grow in your career, you’ll add co-workers, supervisors, even your roommates and friends who are in relevant or adjacent fields. You never know how a connection to someone may lead to a dream job, mutually beneficial relationship or just an interesting conversation.Take time to read the news.
Any entry level job in PR is going to include monitoring the media. You’re going to feel like you get more than your share of news, but I’d challenge you to go beyond your company or your clients’ industry news. Read The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNN.com, CNBC.com and the like. Knowing what’s happening in the world, even if it doesn’t have a direct tie to your day-to-day job, will add context to what you’re working on and will help you understand better what is newsworthy.Ask for opportunities.
Don’t let your title hold you back. If you want to take a stab at owning a project, ask for it! Bonus points if you can identify a need that your bosses and co-workers aren’t even aware of yet. “I noticed many of our contacts are out of date. Is it ok if I spend some time updating our company’s broadcast media list?” You’ll get noticed.Don’t just write. Write well.
Quality writing is the most surefire way to stand out as a new PR professional. In particular, knowing how to translate a more complicated topic into something that’s easily digestible for your client or reporter’s audience is key to success. Study the OpEd pages of your local newspaper. Ask senior staff for tips on how to write clearly and concisely. Also, knowing AP Style and proper grammar and punctuation is critical!Learn to love feedback.
It can be hard to hear that your pitch didn’t hit the mark, or your project management skills need improvement. However, it’s also one of the most effective ways to learn. When you get feedback from someone, whether it be a colleague, account manager or a mentor (inside or outside of your organization), challenge yourself to DO something with it.Differentiate yourself.
Whatever your first job, chances are you won’t be there forever. At some point, you’ll move on to a new opportunity. When you do, it helps to have a personal/professional brand that is unique and is going to stand out from the flood of others with the same training. Look for opportunities to dig deeper and develop skills that will set you apart.Request informational interviews.
If you’re still looking for the right job or post-graduate internship, don’t be afraid to ask for an informational interview, even if the company that you want to work for doesn’t have a position available. It’s a great way to build relationships and learn more about the company or field that could pay dividends in the future.
Good luck, graduates! I hope you all find success, excitement and fulfillment in your PR career. One last tip: Don’t forget to join PRSA!