From time to time, journalists ask me for thoughts on moving into public relations. Somebody tells them about my shift to PR a couple of decades ago after a dozen years as a newspaper reporter and editor. So I get the opportunity to share what worked for me — and hopefully will help them. Here are a few of the things I did. (By the way, I don’t regret the career change at all.)
(1) Strategic outreach to my network (although I didn’t know it at the time). I sent letters and resumes to contacts at companies I admired and knew were doing well, and followed up with phone calls. I had the great fortune of doing in-depth research as part of my job as a business reporter, so I knew who they were. I didn’t hear back from many of them, got rejection letters from others… Then, one called and said he was working to create a position in the corporate communications office he led at a computer software firm. That landed my first job in PR. I put my background as a reporter to use pitching stories about our software to trade journals and writing customer success pieces.
(2) Join the Public Relations Society of America and start attending its monthly meetings. My first manager encouraged me to join. He said it would be a good place for me to keep up with the pulse of the local PR scene, which would help us identify good candidates if our office expanded and keep us up to date with the latest in PR and communications. He also joked (sort-of) that a single guy like me might find a wife in an organization with so many women. I did end up meeting my wife at an Internal Association of Business Communicators (IABC) meeting!
(3) Connect with people at PRSA meetings. As a business reporter, I had learned a few things about networking at events. One tip was to set a goal of exchanging several business cards at an event. Take time to ask each person where they work and what they do. Ask where they went to school, etc. Be sure to have a concise description of your role and/or career objective rehearsed and ready, and bridge to it when appropriate. When you leave, jot a note or two about each person on the business card that will help with followup. Be sure to connect on LinkedIn, if you haven’t already.
(4) Reach out to your contacts when the seemingly inevitable happens. I had only been in PRSA for about a year when my first PR job was eliminated as part of a company-wide downsizing. I e-mailed and/or called people in PRSA I barely knew, and several of them gave me good leads. They steered me away from dysfunctional situations and pointed me to possibilities I didn’t know existed. For example, I had seen an ad that stressed desktop publishing ability, which I didn’t have. But a contact who had a freelance job with the government social services agency suggested that I call anyway. Within two hours, I had an interview! Within two weeks, I had a job — one that would keep me gainfully employed for the next 17 years! My manager viewed the ability to write interesting and informative articles in AP style and on deadline was much more valuable than desktop publishing, a skill that could be learned in a relatively short time.
(5) Get your APR (Accredited in Public Relations) from PRSA. This was a game-changer for me. It taught me about areas of PR beyond media relations and newsletter/fact sheet writing. It showed me how to develop strategic communications programs. Now, it’s part of my DNA — Research, Planning, Implementation and Evaluation. I’ve had the great fortune of developing and carrying out plans with worthy goals such as getting employee buy-in for an important foster parent recruitment campaign, making an intranet an essential part of employees’ workdays, and building awareness for a a previously low-key healthcare system.
(6) Get involved in PRSA volunteer opportunities. Another major step came when I joined the leadership team of the Cincinnati PRSA chapter. I gained invaluable experience about event planning while serving as programming chair and, more importantly, about leadership during my year as chapter president. I made amazing contacts, many of whom I now consider good friends. I learned how to work collaboratively with diverse groups of talented individuals. Five times, I served as a National Assembly delegate, which allowed me to connect with PR go-getters from across the country.
(7) Never stop learning. As time goes on, I find myself endlessly reading PR, marketing and digital strategy books and blog posts. I attend not just PRSA meetings, but offerings of groups such as the American Marketing Association, Cincinnati Social Media, the Social Media Health Network… This is a vast field, with lines between PR, marketing, communications and advertising blurring as never before. Technological advances come faster and faster.
(8) Follow the leaders on social media. Twitter opens the door to a treasure trove of valuable information — white papers, infographics, podcasts, videos, webinars… Hashtags take you to conferences around the globe focused on PR, marketing, digital, healthcare communication, innovation, inspiration… you name it. You get access to well-known authors and speakers as never before. LinkedIn is awesome. Facebook and Google+ and YouTube, oh my!
(9) Don’t take yourself too damn seriously. This is just a note to me. I can get super serious and stressed out about this stuff. Lighten up and have fun. The journey into PR is a marathon, not a sprint. Enjoy the process!
Newsjacking: How to Inject Your Ideas into a Breaking News Story and Generate Tons of Media Coverage
Within hours of getting my Kindle Fire (on the first day of availability!), I had downloaded an excellent new book by David Meerman Scott called Newsjacking: How to Inject Your Ideas Into a Breaking News Story and Generate Tons of Media Coverage. I read it in two days.
Scott offered me a peak into the playbook of PR pros who have capitalized on real-time communication to score big media coverage. It got my mind going about the tremendous opportunity for us to shine the media spotlight on our clients, their products and services.
“In a 27/7/365, second-by-second news environment, savvy operators realize there are new ways to generate media attention,” Scott writes. “…Newsjacking favors quick, observant, and skilled communicators.”
He shared example after example of PR pros who jumped into the news cycle early and came up with angles that got their clients widespread coverage. For example, a high-end sunglasses company got coverage valued at $41 million by giving glasses to Chilean miners as they emerged from 69 days being trapped in a mine. In the political world, Rick Perry newsjacked the Iowa Straw Poll by announcing his candidacy the day of the poll. Bloggers wrote about controversial topics as stories were breaking and put a link to their posts in the comments sections of online articles — and found their comments inserted into followup coverage…
Scott spelled out this technique:
“(1) When something breaks in the news, journalists the world over scramble to put out a news flash within minutes. For local stories and industry-specific news, the same process happens but on a much smaller scale.
“(2) Next, journalists have to update the story, fleshing it out with details and context, so they scour the web for anything that might give them a second paragraph. They turn to Google and Twitter to see who might have something interesting to add. Often they are near-desperate and willing to snap at whatever relevant bait you can provide.
“(3) Your job is to instantly spot an angle and get it online — via your blog, Twitter, or media alert — as fast as you can. You need to be clever and quick. You need to operate in real time.”
Scott gives tips for monitoring and promptly responding to coverage. He shares how others have done this with great results.
Fire up your electronic reader and check it out!
Yesterday morning (a Saturday), I spent nearly an hour on the telephone with a college student who had a number of career-related questions. She’s interested in public relations after first thinking about broadcast journalism. She was working on a paper for a class — and had a number of good questions.
Here are a few of the ideas I shared with her, based on my 12 years in journalism and 18 in public relations:
(1) Get as much experience as you can. Do internships. Volunteer to help a non-profit. Work for a campus publication or broadcast outlet. Write for your hometown newspaper…
(2) Get involved in professional organizations, such as PRSSA. Volunteer to serve on committees. Lead projects. Develop your leadership abilities and teamwork skills…
(3) Become proficient in as many software tools as possible — everything from Adobe to WordPress. Learn to do web pages and desktop publish newsletters, brochures and posters. Know the latest with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Foursquare…
(5) Read career-development books such as Stop Peeing on Your Shoes by Julie Bauke and Career Distinction: Stand Out by Building Your Brand by Wiliam Arruda and Kirsten Dixon. Both books have helped me very much in my long, strange trip of a career.
(6) Network, network, network — both in-person and online. See what you can bring to the professional relationship, not what you can get out of it. Give, and you shall receive.
We covered lots of other ground, too. Would love to hear what ideas you have about career development.