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.