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Clients are the best teachers: 3 lessons learned


Ah, clients. Their success is our success, and their misery is ours, also. 

As an owner of a young agency, I know client relationships often become personal. After spending months working with you, clients can feel more like friends or family. We’re pouring all our brainpower, resources, and energy into helping them grow, rooting for them to win like a proud mama bird.

Not all clients are created equal, though. The best are generous, appreciative, and inspiring. The worst are impossible to satisfy, unavailable, and downright cruel. All have taught me valuable lessons, and here are the top three I’ve learned:

1. The time to act is now.

Whisper App is one of the hottest mobile apps in the marketplace, and CEO Michael Heyward taught me this very useful lesson. My firm was part of Whisper’s small founding team, and we made big decisions daily. 

Heyward’s decision-making process was both audacious and inspiring. It was not unusual for him to say things such as, “Let’s get 100 college representatives hired on by next week.” These abrupt, large-scale requests would cause my team’s jaws to drop, but ultimately—and shockingly—most of them worked. 

Under his leadership, I watched Whisper grow to be a multimillion-dollar company. I’ve adopted his “act now” attitude and applied it not just to business but also to my personal life. I used to spend hours deliberating over tiny decisions, from which top to buy to which person to hire. Now, I just make a choice and bulldoze ahead. 

2. My company comes first, yours second.

A client had a big press announcement coming up, and we were sending out an embargoed release. The night before the story was set to break, I overheard the CEO talking to a journalist at a publication that did not agree to our embargo. Minutes later, the story went live on its website. All hell broke loose.

My journalist contacts shunned me—they thought I had leaked the story. When I confronted my client about it the next day he refused to apologize, justifying his behavior by saying that what he did was in the best interest of the company and asking, “Wasn’t that my goal, too?”

This betrayal put me in a terrible position, because I knew I had to quit though I really didn’t want to. Despite the callous behavior of the CEO, I had worked with them for over a year, investing time, energy, and, quite frankly, a lot of love into their account. Plus, quitting meant not only losing my monthly retainer but also losing equity.

I was forced to choose between standing up for my company and maintaining my integrity orsweeping this offense under the rug. I chose the former and learned a very hard truth: Although your clients may feel like friends, your own company must always come first. 

3. When in doubt, trust your gut.

When I was starting out in my career, I was trying to get a client into Seventeen magazine.Seventeen has always been a favorite publication, and I knew I had the perfect pitch for them. I sent it along to their editors, and one of them wrote back expressing interest. I was so excited I was shaking. (Clearly, I’m in the right profession.)

She asked whether this client expert wanted compensation. My gut reaction was to respond saying, “Of course not! We’re just thrilled for this amazing opportunity!” But being green, I called the client to discuss. As a strong businesswoman, she was firm on the matter: She wanted to be paid. She listed a few other requests as well, and I hesitantly obliged, believing all along that this was not the best course of action.

A few days later, the people at Seventeen told me they had decided to pass. The client didn’t ask for much  and I knew it wasn’t about that anyway. We had lost the opportunity because we weren’t appreciative. Seventeen had been on my PR bucket list; I could have kicked myself.

Looking back, I should have put my foot down and explained to my client that in this situation, it was in her best interest to forgo payment. I had enough wisdom and experience—along with a strong gut instinct—to know that we should thank them and ask for nothing more. 

In the end, there was no dollar amount that could be applied to such an opportunity. Both in business and in life, that gut instinct is always right.

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Twitter interactions your business should shun


Social media is a great and amazingly useful part of PR, but it’s not without its perils. One slip-up on Facebook and you’re in the middle of a scandal. One bad picture on Instagram and all your branding goes to waste. You have to be careful. 

That’s why you should be extremely wary of certain Twitter interactions before diving in. Not everything on this particular social media platform is as innocuous as it seems, and you can quickly become entangled in some unscrupulous exchanges. Let’s take a look. 

Using every hashtag 

One common tactic by many PR pros is to check out the trending hashtags at the moment and try to incorporate them into posts for the day. It’s a quick way to get exposure: People who click on the hashtag and scroll through other posts containing it see the tweet and (hopefully) click on the link. At the very least you hope they’ll check out the rest of your Twitter feed. 

This can be very dangerous, though. Just search “business Twitter fails,” and you’ll see countless lists of brands tossing up every tweet they can think of using hashtags that are wildly inappropriate. They accidentally link their products with shootings, plane crashes, and every other manner of disaster. Hashtags are fine, but make sure you look at why they’re trending. 

War of words 

Arguments never end well when businesses are involved. On Twitter angry customers and/or trolls feel like they can get away with more, considering not as many people see the messages. Only if they actively click on the profile do they see it, unlike Facebook where pretty much anyone who visits your fan page will see the angry words. 

Of course you want to answer everyone; it’s a good policy to have, and you never know when someone is genuinely upset or attempting to troll you. At a certain point, though, you can get pulled into a war of words, and that usually ends badly. 

Hopefully you realize early in the one-sided conversation they’re just baiting you to say something out of line. It’s best just to shut them off or at least turn the conversation private if you think they really need help. The last thing you need is someone retweeting something completely out of context and it spreading around the Web. 

#FF #TBT Etc. 

Joining in on the fun of Follow Friday, Throwback Thursday, and other Twitter “events” can be a great way to show your personality while gaining followers. There’s no reason to do them every week, though; it could be driving people away rather than bringing them in. 

For example, one week you think of a great #TBT post: a picture of your staff when you first opened 10 years ago. The next week, you think of another #TBT: your first tweet ever, how cute. 

Eventually you’re going to run out of things to #TBT, and it will just be annoying to your fans. They know after a point you’re just doing it to gain followers instead of providing them relevant content. Spread it out a little, and concentrate on important stuff rather than hopping on trends. 

What are some other annoying Twitter habits you’ve seen businesses embrace?

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PR advice from a recovering journalist


Many journalists switch over to public relations; this, of course, is not breaking news. 

After a long career fighting the good fight, many journalists find a job in public relations—perhaps advocating for a cause they have learned to love over the years—mighty tempting. Me? Well, I simply made the switch about 30 years sooner than most. 

After a successful journalism career in college and about a year after, I joined The Black Sheep Agency. It wasn’t an easy decision, and I still love the news biz, but it was the right move for me. 

My new position has been a crash course in PR. I’ve learned about how journalism and PR intersect, the relationship between PR folks and reporters, and how to navigate this murky, complicated partnership. Being on both sides has given me a perspective that I hope will help us understand each other better. 

Here are a few tips I’ve uncovered: 

1. Keep pitches simple. 

I’ve seen my fair share of pitches, and I’m on the way to writing just as many. I’m actually still on a national PR database as a reporter, so I get dozens of pitches sent to my email daily, most of which I direct to my spam box. Don’t tell anyone, but every now and then I’ll read a few pitches and laugh at how horrible they are. 

I’ve gotten pitches addressed to “Nancy” and “Insert reporter’s name here.” I’ve seen pitches over 1,000 words with five or more attachments. And I’ve gotten the same pitch four times in one day. 

When I draft a pitch, I follow a very simple rule: Would I want to write about this as a reporter? If you can’t write a pitch in fewer than 300 words, the reporter probably will not care. I mean, they probably don’t have many more words than that to include in their actual story. Keep it simple. Get to the point. And please, use the recipient’s correct name. 

2. Don’t be annoying. The reporter got your email. 

“Hey Cody, hope you are well. I was just checking in to make sure you got my email…” 

If I have seen the above opening line once, I’ve seen it a thousand times. Yes, I am well. Yes, I got your email. No, I won’t write about your pitch, because it wasn’t interesting enough for me to even send a reply. 

I know the struggle that PR people have with getting responses from reporters, but for a follow-up email to be effective it must have a purpose. Don’t ask reporters whether they have received your email. Unless they forgot how email works, they’ve looked at it and have either flagged it for a second look or deleted it. 

A better way to follow up would be updating them on any new information regarding the story you are trying to push. It doesn’t have to be a momentous update, just something that warrants a second email. A general rule is that a follow-up email can be sent 48 hours after the original email, and it should only be a couple of sentences. 

Finally, if you are crunched for time, let the reporter know. They understand deadlines. They live on deadlines. Deadlines are in their DNA. They might cut you some slack if you send a follow-up email that next morning. 

3. Use Twitter. 

Reporters (well, most of them) really like Twitter. I did and still do. It helps journalists connect in real time with readers, sources, and colleagues worldwide. Journalists are also slightly narcissistic, so watching those tweets roll out with my story attached was always a favorite pastime of mine. Those in the PR field should take advantage of this space and start interacting with reporters. 

Again, try not to be annoying about it. The interaction should be genuine and tailored to each reporter. If a reporter writes a really awesome story—even if it is on a topic not any way connected to a client—tweet it out using the reporter’s Twitter handle. If a reporter is looking for a source on Twitter, help them out. If a reporter asks for Indian food suggestions in Houston—well, you get the picture. 

Once you establish a connection with the reporter, it is easier to hit them up when you have a pitch. A word of caution: Don’t be phony. Reporters are trained to spot BS from a mile away, even on Twitter. 

4. Why can’t we be friends? 

The greatest takeaway from my amazing and sometimes awkward shift from the journalism world to the PR world is that we can, and should, get along. 

When I was a reporter, we would always talk about other reporters who “went over to the dark side” and “sold out” when they got a job in PR. But we would rely on PR people when we needed sources for a story and the deadline was fast approaching.The stereotype that journalists are harsh and “out to get” someone is still alive in the PR world. Actually, they just want to do their job and do it well. 

No matter your views on which profession is nobler or serves a higher purpose, journalism and public relations will always be two sides of the same coin—a symbiotic relationship. Let’s be kind to each other. Let’s make an effort to understand each other. And let’s create a relationship that is beneficial to all. 

After all, you never know when you might flip that coin.

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11 ways dating and public relations go hand in hand

Finding the similarities between dating and public relations began as a fun, in-office joke among members of the People Making Good PR team. 

After some serious thought and consideration, we determined that dating and PR may just be more alike than they are different. Taking a look at the trials and tribulations that occur in the world of dating might help us evaluate our everyday lives as publicists. 

Here are some similarities we spotted:

1. The first date 


A kickoff meeting with a new client is a lot like a first date. You dress up, you do your research, and you come equipped with questions—all with the goal of making the best first impression so the other person wants to stick around for the long haul. 

2. The “Facebook stalk” 


Much as we peruse the “interwebs” and major social media channels for any red flags regarding a new lover, the same sort of stealthy behavior goes into finding everything there is to know about a journalist who is perfect for covering our client. 

Before we meet up for a date (or, in the PR world, send out a pitch) we’ve probably already determined whether you’re a dog/cat person, what your favorite color is, whether you’re on a special diet, what your most recent Instagram post was, etc. 

If there’s dirt out there that we can use to our advantage, we’ll find it. 

3. The calculated communication 


Because we are excellent communicators, we apply the same calculated scrutiny to our client communications as we do to every text, email, FB message, Snapchat, and call delivered to or received from a potential Significant Other.

4. Getting that first response


There really is no difference between the giddiness you feel hearing back from a crush versus a top-tier journalist.

5. Eyeing the competition 


For every single lady or man on the prowl for a new lover (read: love-ah), there is a publicist in the market for new business. We know our client is great, and we are keeping our eyes and ears peeled for other publicists trying to sniff their way in and encroach on our territory.

6. The art of multitasking 

It takes a special person to juggle multiple clients: There are names to remember, numbers to memorize, and time to be scheduled and dedicated to each account. The same goes for “playing the field,” and with a career as stressful and time-consuming as public relations, this skill is a must to master.

7. Long distance? No sweat! 

If there is one thing publicists must succeed at, it’s keeping the love alive, regardless of the distance. The same care and consideration that go into keeping in touch, providing transparency, and scheduling recurring meetings with our clients are applied to the relationships with our loved ones. Besides, with busy schedules and long workdays, who has time for a lover who lives in the same city, anyway?

8. The breakup

There are breakups in your personal life and breakups in your professional life. No matter how hard you work and strive to succeed with a client, sometimes a relationship just isn’t the right fit or the timing is wrong. Regardless, it will inspire and motivate you to keep moving forward.

9. Finding your soul mate 

Developing a good groove with a client (or journalist) feels a lot like falling in love. The communication couldn’t be better, acquiring great media coverage feels like the end of a perfect date, and when you see their name on the caller ID, you actually feel a little flutter in your heart. If this isn’t you, don’t worry. It is possible. You will find your true love in due time.

10. Hard work and dedication 

Just as all good personal relationships take time, work, and energy, so do those with clients and journalists. When signing up to be a publicist, you’re signing up to put your best foot forward—always, and at any cost.

11. Sometimes, you attract the crazy ones.

This one doesn’t really require any further explanation. 

With all the stresses of public relations, it’s necessary now and then to make light of the hardships we face daily. If you have a dating/PR similarity we’ve missed, please offer it in the comments section below.

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How to land your dream PR gig

Are you about to graduate from college and looking to land your first PR job?
Here are a few tips from an experienced hiring manager that will help you prepare yourself and stand out from everyone else.
1. Before the interview, read the publications, websites, and blogs important to the industry the company serves. 
We like to read Cosmo too, but in PR it is imperative to have your finger on the pulse of the industry, especially one like technology.
Though we don’t expect you to know everything going on in the world today, it’s impressive when candidates demonstrate that they understand our industry focus and let us know they’re following Wired on Twitter and love the new Samsung Galaxy 5 phone that is coming out.
It shows that you’re interested in this industry and engaged with current news media and that you enjoy having tech in your daily life.
2. Look the part. 
When you come in for an interview, be at the top of your game. Brush your hair, dress the part, and please don’t make us wonder whether you just rolled out of bed.
3. Work your assets and skills. 
Does your resume resemble an exhaustive list of every wait staff, camp counselor, and social organization position you’ve held? That’s all great and shows you’ve built certain skills, how do they relate to a job in PR?
Think about what you learned at each job and relate it to the tasks you’ll be required to perform. Maybe while waitressing at the local pub you learned all there is to know about 100 local microbrews to help customers pick the best brew to accompany their meal.
Tell that story about gaining knowledge in craft beer. It sets you apart and shows a hiring manager that you can learn, synthesize, and tell a story about a specific product, and then help people come to a decision.
4. Ditch irrelevant information. 
Everyone at my agency, Garfield, held a bunch of different jobs before getting to the first Big One, but including every gig you’ve had can be overkill. Going all the way back to the days you mowed grass for your neighbors can probably be left off your resume.
We would rather see a tight list of jobs that you’ve related to the position you’re applying for than an exhaustive list of positions with no relation to the job at hand.
5. Abandon the boring. Make your cover letters unique and compelling. 
Typically the least favorite part of any job application process, the cover letter is your opportunity to state your case and show your professional personality.
Don’t state the obvious: “I’m interested in xyz position and think my skills fit the job description and would be an asset to the company.” This is a given; you are applying for the job.