I recently began looking for an entry level PR person to help me with my client load. I preferred this person to have the equivalent of intern experience; in other words, they must be able to navigate Cision and build clean target media lists, but client relations experience wasn’t a must.
My search got me thinking, as I realized that response quantity far, far exceeded quality (the irony that this is the biggest complaint media have about PR people when shuffling through pitches is not lost on me, rather I see how this relationship of lack of quality is perpetuated throughout ones PR career) that it’s freaking tough to find someone equipped with the basic building blocks to be a rock star in this field.
In the end, I hired the one candidate that had not only bothered to research my company and myself extensively, but even more importantly, she could write! She captivated me immediately with her pitch for candidacy, and dying art that it is, I was sold on her penmanship.
I will never hire someone who isn’t an excellent writer because that person will not be successful pitching and they won’t be successful in written communications to their clients or their team. To be successful enough to climb the ladder at an agency and carve out a career in PR, most need to first hurdle the barriers of the below five subjects.
1. PR is not a passive career. Media are inundated with hundreds if not thousands of on-and-off messages daily. People looking to be successful in PR can’t expect to passively represent a company or product line and have media come to them. It doesn’t work like that. You could pitch the Today Show on a travel pillow on Wednesday and watch a segment on travel pillows air on Friday without your client’s product included. This happens all the time, even to those of us known to media as representing clients in the travel product industry for 10 years. To be successful, you need to be tenacious and follow up and try new angles. You need to pitch Today Show producers and then, if you don’t get a response, pitch Today Show contributors. Remember, most PR Managers are too busy to micro-manage a passive PR Coordinator and when they soon tire of milking you for results, they will fire you.
2. Organization is key. You need to be organized to the extreme. Starting out, a PR Coordinator is the person who will be pitching daily on an account. You will need to remember who you’ve already pitched, who is interested in your news, who responded negatively, who changed outlets or moved to a new beat. You need to have a ‘home run’ list of top outlets your client would like to see their news in and remember who you’ve pitched at those. You will need to try multiple beats at these outlets with multiple pitch angles fitting these beats. You need to give adequate time – but not too much – between follow ups. You will need to walk the line between persistence and annoyance. It’s a fine line and not everyone can balance it with the poise required.
3. You need to be a good writer. The very people you are pitching ARE WRITERS. They are busy writers on deadline who are constantly inundated with pitches. If you can get to the point concisely while clearly making a case as to why their audience would care, you break through the clutter. Many PR people complain about getting no response from media, no feedback. If you take the time to write a great pitch, chances of getting feedback are greater.
4. It’s as much Client Relations as it is Media Relations and they are not the same thing, not even remotely. First you have to understand, there is no media relations without clients to pitch. PR people need to be taught to listen to – and manage – clients’ expectations while also delivering them the results they expect from hiring a PR agency. You will need to discuss at length why audiences will care about their product/service, determine who the competitors are, where they fit in their market and pinpoint their market differentiators. I like to interview clients as if I were a member of the press to get this information. If you feel as though something is not newsworthy, tell your client that. At the end of the day, you are the expert and should be offering your guidance whether it is taken or not.
Next you have to repurpose all the gathered client information, and break it down into relevant, easily digestible bits for the media. Then refer back to points # 2 and # 3.
5. It ain’t easy. I’m not sure if this is just my subjective point of view, but I feel like a lot of people get into PR because it’s supposed to be glamourous or an easy career alternative for those math and science challenged souls. There’s a reason why this job is constantly placed at the top of Most Stressful Job lists. We have no control over final outcome of a segment or story. PR is often a juggling act of accounts which place you as a middle man between clients and the media (at times you’re taking flak from both ends simultaneously). You may work for 20 hours straight one day for an opportunity canceled last minute by your client or the media. Or you may work 20 hours straight one day and never receive so much as a nod of acknowledgement for getting your client on The Ellen Show. You’re on call 24/7 dealing with politics and egos. Try telling a client a reporter called his/her ‘baby ugly’ in a national headline. Then explain to your boss why said client fired you. The list goes on. And on.
I’ll finish by saying, the beauty of a career in PR – aside from the rewarding experience building friendships with media and clients, garnering great media coverage and watching a company grow in part because of your efforts – is getting to a place in your career where you can mentor a newbie PR Coordinator and watch them grow into a successful, tenacious, organized, writer beloved by clients and media alike.