Tag Archives: executive

You Don’t Know PR

After more than 12 years in the business of public relations, it still amazes me how little people know about it.

I got my start in PR simply by chance. I looked for months for my first job out of college with little luck. Then a guy I used to babysit for recommended me to someone he knew in the city and that’s how I got my start.

I began working in beauty and fashion public relations in 2001. It wasn’t quite my cup of tea for a variety of reasons (low pay, no benefits; think of a ‘Devil Wears Prada’ environment where this Jersey girl just didn’t quite fit in) but I made it a little over a year there before I knew it was time to make a change. Ahh, how much easier it was to quit your job and decide to ‘start fresh’ at 23 than at 36. What I did take away from that job was that there was always a way to get something done, no matter what obstacles stood in your way.

I spent three years at a PR agency where I felt I learned everything I needed to get my start. The hours were awful and the management was mixed, but the pay and advancement were awesome. I got to work with some cool media companies and really got my start at understanding the power of public relations and why having a team of professionals like myself was so important to a brand.

Moving on to the non-profit world, there weren’t as many fancy raises or title changes, but there was so much more satisfaction. Managing and creating a communications department (where one didn’t exist) and knowing that the work you did was directly impacting lives and the bottom dollar that helped your organization grow was an indescribable feeling. There was also this warm and fuzzy feeling you got collaborating with your co-workers.

When I got laid off from my favorite job ever (see above), I spent a handful of months unemployed before I singlehandedly started running the PR department at a large media agency. It was here, after nearly a decade in the business, that I finally accepted how completely clueless people were about public relations.

With the exception of my first PR job, I have spent my entire career explaining what I do and what public relations really is, even to those who have hired me. Granted, that’s I’m there for, but within the last 10 years, nearly every client or company has been in the dark about this craft. That’s what can make it a lonely job, especially if you’re the only one running PR. People don’t understand your plight and companies usually don’t know where to put you. In fact, many don’t even have a communications or public relations department to begin with. Who is talking to the press for you? Who is advising you on internal and external communications? Who is making sure your messaging is in line? I could go on forever. In this day and age, with all the social media, real-time blunders, amongst other no-brainers, PR should be a requirement, not a luxury.

It takes a special person to work in PR. You have to be storyteller; you have to have patience, understanding, a thick skin and the ability to turn nothing into something. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to explain that everything is not “PR worthy.” Translation: not every burp and fart is newsworthy. People aren’t interested in every executive move your company is making, nor do they care about internal “rebrands.” Companies will give you a million reasons why they think “this is a great story,” and when you advise them it won’t get much, if any coverage, they don’t follow suit. I finally started calling reporters I had solid relationships with and asking them why they weren’t interested in covering something I was forced to make a story out of. It’s turned out to be one of the best and most honest tactics I have used in my career.

Another thing that aggravates the hell out of me (and is probably my biggest pet peeve of all) is when the PR person is left in the dark. All public relations heads should be at the executive table. We don’t care about your bullshit office politics, we just want the information before it’s spreading all over the office and we’re clueless when the press starts calling because some joker leaked it. This is a huge blunder companies make – they don’t think their PR person is important or plays an integral enough role in the business, primarily because they are not a revenue generator. What they don’t realize is that we can help save your brand. When the CEO leaves unexpectedly, when someone dies, a huge client is lost or you’ve got a scandal on your hands, you need your PR person in the loop. I’ve never understood how executives can manage billions of dollars and thousands of people, yet have zero idea how to communicate externally.

Public relations practioners get little recognition. Many say it’s a thankless job and quite frankly, it can be. When you get a great press hit, win an award or execute a successful campaign, the people behind it are usually forgotten. The brand gets visibility, the company, the executive(s) behind it, and while internally you may get some positive feedback and hi-fives, no one on the outside world really knows how it got on the front page of The New York Times, and you know what, they don’t care.

So why I have been doing PR for so many years? I’m good at, I like people, I love to write and there’s this feeling I get when something I spearhead goes from my desk to being broadcast nationally on TV or in the news. I landed in PR by chance. I’m now a stay-at-home-mom who very occasionally consults and tries to keep up with the trends. In the meantime, I hope Olivia Pope and all the other ‘fixers’ and ‘problem solvers’ out there are continuing to pave the way for us PR heroes.

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My Old Career Self

Some days, like today, I miss my old career self. I miss my fast-talking, PR slinging self, calling reporters, doing TV interviews and holding valuable information from the C-suite.

These days, I’m the CEO. My job includes playing at the park, making home cooked meals, cleaning, paying bills, running errands. It sounds boring, but most days, I do feel accomplished, at least in my own little world. I’m reading a good book and get in some bad reality TV while surfing the web (do people still use that phrase?). I’m constantly trying to order pictures that I never seem to do, get easily sidetracked by text messages and Facebook, and seem to do endless amounts of laundry. I talk daily (in my head) about doing something with my “book” but it just sits on my computer. Somehow it’s easier that way.

I have a good life. One that is probably better than most. I get to stay home with my daughter and watch her grow and learn. I’m not saying that in a cliché way or to make myself feel better, I truly feel I am fortunate. I live in a nice house and have great family and friends that I get to see often because I am home. But some days, I miss the executive the world. The same world that I would bitch and moan about while I was in it (i.e. underpaid, shitty bosses, the commute).

I used to do some pretty cool things while I worked in public relations. I handled communications for the Red Cross during Sully’s epic landing of Miracle on the Hudson; I launched HD Radio (when it was supposed to be a big thing back in 2006); I worked with high ranking CEOs; managed crises; traveled. I used my mind in completely different ways. I knew what was trending, wore more than yoga pants and tank tops, and sported pretty fabulous shoes.

Sadly, I was at a dead end job during my last phase of employment. There was no advancing, no one really knew what I did or the importance of having a PR representative despite my best efforts, and it was really lonely. So transitioning from that world to my current one wasn’t too tough because my world now is much fuller, even if the demands are different.

But there are some days, days like today, when I miss being “important;” where people, and the public, depended on me, little ‘ol me to relay and disseminate crucial and critical information. Information beyond what we’re having for dinner or if I called the repairman. Yet, I wouldn’t change my situation or give up this gig to have it all back. It’s just nice to remember my old “career self” every now and then for a feel good, ego boost moment. I’ll be back someday though. Don’t you worry.