So you want a career in public relations, or in today’s world we could call it “Branding?” I started my PR career volunteering for a small community organization. I studied marketing in college, and I found my PR class to be the most fulfilling. Yes, I did say “class” because I was only required to take only one PR class.
My responsibilities for my first little PR project were to prepare press releases, solicit newspaper coverage, and schedule television appearances. This was before we were all on the Internet, which made PR life much more challenging.
There weren’t as many media outlets to get the word out about your ideas, your visions, your business ventures, or your events. As I reminiscence about my past experience, I realize that it was also an opportunity for me to get some experience on television myself, since I did double duty as PR person and spokesperson.
My main career objective was to work in advertising. But unfortunately, or maybe “fortunately,” I couldn’t get a job in advertising, which was another factor for me to consider in contemplating starting my own business. I started my business organizing special events before it took a physical toll and I ran out of steam, but I learned so much about how to deal with people when I realized that my job was more about relationship management than actually the skill of organizing, which I must say, “I was good at both.”
So as I fast forward, although I am probably most known as the publisher of Onyx Woman magazine and the founder of OWN: Onyx Woman Network, I still keep my hands in the public relations industry.
Although many businesses and organizations may be good at what they do, they may not have the time, the expertise, or the budget to handle the marketing aspect of their organization.
I may be a bit biased, but I believe that marketing is essential to the success of any venture, event, business, or nonprofit endeavor.
So what does it take to be a good PR professional? The bottom line is that you help your clients establish, maintain, and evolve their brand by getting them well-planned and strategic exposure.
I could have responded to my own question of what it takes by selecting those basic writing skills, administrative duties, some creativity, and physical energy that is required to make a good PR campaign work, but you can always outsource some of those talents and do the business end yourself. I don’t use much of my educational background when getting my clients exposure.
I always say that it is hard to hide the fact if you are not doing a good job in PR. Why? Because clients know when they are not getting exposure. If they hire you and there are very few newspaper stories, they are not getting interviewed by any press, and they are not seeing themselves on social media, they have to ask themselves why they are hiring you.
One essential element is building relationships and getting along with media decision makers. I try to leave no stone unturned when it comes to trying to reach my client’s goal of reaching out to their target audience. I first need to determine what their goals are. Secondly, I ask the question, “What are the 3 points you would like to make in your message?”
A good PR experience has a lot to do with a good client. Clients have to be extremely flexible with their schedule. I once had a media opportunity presented to me one day before the client would have been expected to be on a television show to promote her event. This particular client was excellent; she was able to find someone to appear in her place, and we had less than 12 hours before the show’s taping.
No, I don’t have a long list of clients, because I don’t have a huge staff, plus I have other responsibilities with my business which consist of publishing a magazine, building an online talk show, growing a lifestyle blog, and creating media content. But, I believe that my gift is that I take ownership in every project that I work on. When I start the process it is no longer “them,” it is “us.” You probably have not seen much of any advertising for my PR services, and that’s because most of my clients are repeat clients and I have worked for them for years.
I have prepared their press releases, created media kits, advised them on marketing efforts, given tips on special events, connected them to prospective funders, scheduled their media appearances, solicited newspaper coverage, and advised them on newspaper, radio, billboard, and other advertising opportunities. I even schedule them for speaking engagements, attend events for them, and troubleshoot problems. I am extremely honest with them. I DO NOT tell clients what they want to hear; I tell them what they NEED to know.
What takes the most psychical energy is the day of an event. Not only is my team present to take photos, but I am also responsible for making sure that other media outlets have identified certain VIP in attendance, and that I answer other questions relevant to the story. I make every attempt to make life easier for the client. I have to grab people on their way in the door for photos, and I have pulled people out of their chairs to talk to the media and coaxed the camera-shy into getting in group shots.
When the media can’t identify certain people in a photo, they contact me to ensure that the names are correct. In addition, I have to send photos to media outlets who did not attend.
There is one factor that my clients may prefer to do without and that is the fact that I contact them often. I know that they are extremely busy, but I also know that when the media gives me an opportunity, they will not wait around for me to give them a delayed response. There are some other public relations clients who would just love to get some opportunity that I pass up.
Building a reputation with the media is crucial. Media professionals don’t have time to be playing games. My integrity is integral to my success. Those relationships must be nurtured. The advantage that my clients have is the fact that I have been in the media for 25 years and have a magazine, a talk show, an eNewsletter, I provide eBlast services … they get access to those perks for no extra cost.
Remember that marketing opportunities do not end after the event or project is over. I have to leverage the exposure by marketing the after-event. Once a client gets media exposure it is “recycled marketing,” which means I can always take that information and place it on social media several times over a period of time.
Investors, funders, and supporters now have access to information about my clients that is being distributed by respected individuals who carry a lot of weight.
I am basically a negotiator. When I hear these words, “Ola, we don’t have any space or time available,” that is when I really spring into action. I am the liaison between the client and the media. I have to represent my clients with the utmost professionalism.
As I was wrapping up a project, I had one loose end to tie-up. One media outlet was previously booked and couldn’t get my client on the air prior to their event. I contacted the talk show host a day before the event to pitch the same client for an after-event interview.
I opened the email response only to see a message informing me that the client had indeed been interviewed about her upcoming event, and attached I would find a copy of the show that she appeared on. It ended up there was a cancellation that I was not made aware of, and my client had gotten first dibs on the opportunity to give one last pitch for her event. With a huge exhale of relief on my mind and a big smile on my face, all I could say was, “My work here is done!”