5 Things Every Public Relations Grad Should Have

First of all, congratulations to this year’s graduates who have chosen a rewarding and Imageinteresting career path that’s never dull or repetitive, always challenging and demanding, and very often just plain fun!

I’ve interviewed hundreds of PR candidates over the years and have come to know that being prepared with the right resources and assets can make a difference in beating out the competition for that coveted first job.  Who you know is certainly advantageous in this business, but anyone can level the interview playing field by being equipped with seemingly ordinary and uncomplicated attributes, knowledge and details that can make you the clearer choice as a candidate:

1.  An error-free resume

This isn’t anything you haven’t heard before, but you’d be surprised at how many resumes we continue to see riddled with typos, grammatical errors, slang and visual inconsistencies.  Always triple spell-check your work or have another pair of eyes review it.   Be sure to also be consistent in your layout:  make sure indentations, columns, bullets, typefaces and fonts match.  We are PR pros and we notice the little things – if your resume is sloppy and lacking attention to detail, we’ll likely draw the conclusion that your work will be as such too.

2.  A suit 

Sorry folks, but even in this day of business casual which I believe has reached new lows in what’s acceptable for office wear, nothing says polished, professional and “I’m ready to take this job seriously” like a suit.  You’re safe with navy, black or gray – solid or striped – and it needn’t be expensive. You’ll need it for interviewing, and once you get that job, for important client meetings and events.   Remember the adage, “Dress for the position you want.”

3.  The latest edition of the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook

Believe it or not, I refer to this book nearly every day.  Heck, I can’t remember that the word ‘window dressing,’ when used as a noun is not hyphenated, but that when used as a verb (window-dress) it is! And, once word gets out that you’ve got an AP Stylebook, you’ll make new friends with all of your colleagues who show up to borrow it!!  In addition, I also recommend having a copy of Fowler’s Modern English Language Usage which I use often as well.

 4.  A knowledge of basic table etiquette

Let’s face it, in the PR world, we OWN business lunches and dinners.  Unless you’re working for the Ritz or Buckingham Palace, you probably won’t need to bother being able to identify a prawn fork from an oyster fork (incidentally, there are at least 13 different types of forks that are used in high society).  However, you should have some basic table manners such as knowing to always put your napkin in your lap immediately upon sitting, how to pass the salt (always with the pepper) and to never text or answer your phone during a business lunch unless it’s completely necessary.  You can find more tips at http://verilymag.com/dining-etiquette-101/

 5.  A Positive, enthusiastic outlook

Trust me, it’s not always the smartest, best-educated candidate who wins the job – it’s the one who shows dedication, enthusiasm, heart and an eagerness to dive in.  Employers don’t expect 22-year olds to know everything, but they typically do want new employees chomping at the bit to apply what they’ve learned thus far, and to supplement it with new on-the-job knowledge and insights they’ll gain from working daily with public relations pros.  I know you have student loans to pay back, but remember that this is the beginning of a wonderful, fulfilling career for you – make the most of it now.  If you chose the right career path, this should come naturally to you.  And, if you aren’t a positive person, then practice with all of the available and immediate resources at your fingertips.

Good luck and much success to all of you!

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Part 2 – 7 Tips for Planning and Executing a Successful NYC Consumer Media Tour :

MY NYC PicYesterday, I wrote the first part of my suggestions for a successful NYC Media Tour.  Here are the rest of my tips:

4.  Securing appointments – be persistent but not annoying!

It’s easy to secure appointments with editors with whom you have a good rapport; it’s much more difficult to get them with those you don’t know.  This is why having relevant information is important because usually an editor will listen and consider it when you do get them on the line. I usually send an email recap of what I want to meet with them about and then follow up with a phone call. If I get their voicemail, I leave a message, knowing that I’ll have to keep trying to get them live on the phone.  I always chuckle to myself when a junior PR executive complains that they haven’t been able to secure editorial appointments because the editor won’t call them back.  Editors receive hundreds of calls and emails per week; they don’t always have time to call you back, especially if they are the editor for a department. When that’s the case, I’ll call an assistant or associate editor (in that same department) to schedule appointments because I’ll invite them as well as their boss– this can sometimes ensure if one of them has to cancel, you’ll still be in front of the other one.  And, don’t eschew meetings with “just the associate editor” or with interns – I met with an intern only once and she ended up having a lot of clout (because of the skeletal staffs now) and we received nice coverage.

5.  Plan carefully what message you want to convey, but keep it simple.

It’s very rare that an editor will have more than a half hour block to meet with you.  So, you need to be concise and cognizant of their time.  About half of the editors I meet with conduct the “meeting” on the waiting couches in their lobby!  Meeting space at publications is typically limited, so your chance to hook up and present a 40-slide power point presentation is not going to happen. You need to know your talking points by heart. I’ve seen many PR pros caught off guard and tongue tied because they planned to go off of the power point and didn’t bother to really know the content.  Make sure you respect the editor’s time – don’t drone on and on and go over the time limit.  Also, be sure to define roles with your client; for instance, you’ll do the introduction and take notes and they’ll give the demonstration.

6.  Always be prepared for Plan B.

Editors are busy and things come up. It’s likely one will cancel or try to push back a meeting time.  Accept that this will occur and be flexible if your schedule permits.  If an editor does cancel and you cannot reschedule, still let them know that you’re going to drop off the press kit materials and product sample (if applicable).  For good measure, I like to get a dozen cupcakes from the Magnolia Bakery (several locations in Manhattan) and drop them off with the kits. They will remember that! And always follow up with them to make sure they received your package – sometimes things (cupcakes 😉 can end up in the wrong hands and you want to get credit for that).

7.  The follow-up is sometimes more important than the meeting!

Within a day or two of returning back to the office, send a thank you note (or email) with a recap of what you talked about in the meeting and any next steps that need to occur, such as sending more information or other product samples.  Pay close attention in your meeting and take judicious notes for your client so that you can follow up at various times with any news or information that they spoke of or that you know would be of interest to them.  Usually, the magazines have anywhere from 4-6 month lead times so you can check up on them occasionally to see if they’ve spoken with their boss and what might be covered in what future issue.  To keep yourself top of mind without badgering them, email them any useful follow up information or suggestions for another angle.  Just remember – there is finesse to media relations – badgering editors is not part of that.  Your goal is not just editorial coverage, but a lasting and mutually beneficial relationship with the editor.

Oh and one more thing, make sure you visit an ATM and bring cash for cab rides and tips in NYC – you don’t want to stick your client with those.

Successful travels!

7 Tips for Planning and Executing a Successful NYC Consumer Media Tour – Part 1:

ImageDespite the current array of online and social media channels with which we can communicate with media, there are still times when it’s important to meet with them face-to-face. I believe it’s beneficial to keep yourself and clients in front of editors on a regular basis in order to establish and maintain a good rapport and a professional relationship that’s mutually beneficial.

Tours are preferred if your client has a new product that’s very demonstrative and/or is also the first of its kind in the industry. If it’s a complex product, it’s advantageous to meet with media in person to show them all the features and benefits of the product, and why their audience would be interested.  It also helps them put a face with a name, so when you call or email them in the future, they’ll likely remember you.

Much of my career has been spent promoting an array of housewares and household products – from vacuum cleaners to painting tapes and supplies to DIY caulks and adhesives. I’ve worked closely with home editors at national consumer women’s magazines, parenting, and home shelter publications, most of which are headquartered at major publishing houses in New York City (with the exception of Meredith’s Better Homes & Gardens and its special interest publications which are in Des Moines).  Most of the products I’ve represented target women, whom we called the CHOs or Chief Household Officers.

With the exception of a few publications that have recently shut down (Parenting, Baby Talk), much of these publications aren’t going anywhere though they are stretching smaller staffs with more responsibilities.  This makes editors’ time sparse and precious which means you need to be very strategic when planning out your tour.

Here are some tips for getting appointments, having successful meetings and setting the tone for your client’s brand to get media coverage down the line.

1. If it isn’t new, at least make sure your “news” is relevant and interesting to that editor’s audience. 

New products in general can be newsworthy in and of themselves. When I worked for a vacuum cleaner manufacturer, we came out with several upright vacuum cleaners that made it first to market with unique and convenient, new features.  However, keep in mind that a change in color or model number is not newsworthy – in that case you can get away with an emailed news release.   Also, consumer editors typically don’t find useful or relevant, industry data such as how many units were sold or the company’s market share or growth.  Having relevant content and news gives you a better chance of securing an appointment with an editor.

2.  Put yourself in that editor’s shoes and think of what info is important to him or her.

Besides having relevant information to the editor’s particular beat, make sure that you put yourself in their shoes and understand what would help make their job a little easier.  First, do your research and know their columns, writing styles and what they usually cover.  In addition to a straight new product release, I also like to include tips for using that product and/or ideas of how to include the product in a wider theme.  Help them come up with a feature story angle. For example, a new air purifier product requires a news release, but I know it’s rare to get a feature article written just about that product. So, I’ll focus on a broader theme such as Spring Allergy Solutions or Indoor Air Quality in which I can research good stats from reputable agencies (like the CDC or EPA) and make a case for why an air purifier is part of a solution for allergy sufferers.  The product may not be the “star” of the article, but its relevance and importance in a broader topic gives it even more credibility and likelihood for coverage.

3.  Strategically plan out your appointments so that you give yourself plenty of time to avoid frustrations that could impact your presentation.

Most of the editorial publishing headquarters are located in a fairly compact radius in mid-town Manhattan.  In many cases, a number of the publications you may be meeting with will be at the same address, but on different floors.  Hearst (located on 8th Avenue & 57th) houses magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Country Living, O, and House Beautiful among others.  Planning appointments at Hearst always saves me some time because I can schedule appointments only 15 minutes apart (note that you will need to keep going back downstairs to the lobby after each appointment and go through security for your next appointment). However, if you’re going from Hearst to say “Ladies Home Journal,” which is located more downtown on Park Avenue, you’ll need to schedule at least a half hour – time to grab a cab, travel and get registered at the security desk.  I like to use car services which are both time and cost-effective.

PR: A job to die for? I don’t think so.

Did you know that Career Cast’s annual list of the most-stressful jobs in America shows Public Relations Executive as No. 5 for 2013?  Jobs that are listed as more stressful than PR Executives this year are, in order: Military Personnel, Military General, Firefighter and Commercial Airline Pilot.

Really???   Are you kidding me?  I mean, I’ve been in the PR business for nearly a quarter of a century and I most certainly understand the challenges, but do I really believe my job is nearly as stressful than dodging RPGs from insurgents over in Afghanistan?  Or flying a 747 through a huge storm system?  And, how about the firefighters who risk their lives daily?  Does their cortisol level beat out mine when I fret over a typo in a news release that has already gone out on the wire?  I just watched “Backdraft” again last night and there is no comparison between my work stress of writing against deadline or getting hung up on by an editor to their saving lives whilst ensuring they don’t lose their own in an apartment blaze.

Look, don’t think that I don’t take my job seriously.  I do, very much so.  I always strive to do everything I can to ensure success for my clients and my company.  But dodging a bullet is only a figurative expression in my field of work.

What’s even more ironic is that Police Officers are listed as number 10 on the list.  Their hearts skip a beat every time they pull over a car, not knowing if the driver is high on drugs or armed.  Yes, that probably is on par of how I felt when my team and I stuffed and sealed 200 press kits only to realize that somehow the personalized cover letters did not match the contacts on the address labels!  It’s possible I suffered a mini-stroke over that one.

We PR folks are not daily risking our lives nor others’ and we don’t witness gruesome scenes of carnage on a regular basis – well, unless you consider those beautiful uneaten, melted desserts at the two empty tables at a media luncheon I hosted, where half the invitees were a no-show because it poured in NYC. Ugh, that was a horrible scene now that I think about it.  It was painful. After the product demonstration and brief speech from my client, the most exciting thing to happen with the 7 editors who did attend, was how thrilled they were to run over to the window and watch a hawk gliding majestically over Central Park.  Okay, so maybe I stand corrected.  That was stressful.  But, we did still get some media coverage.  There’s always a silver lining in PR.

What I’m trying to say is that we all have to do our jobs and make sure we do them well – for the sake of our clients, their customers, our bosses and our colleagues.  Let’s just keep our work in perspective: in PR it’s always just an ordinary day when no one dies doing their job.  Let’s be happy about that.

Check out Career Cast’s full list at: http://www.careercast.com/jobs-rated/10-most-stressful-jobs-2013

Why I cringe when I hear interviewees say “I Love Working With People”

Call me an old fashioned curmudgeon, but it just bugs me when PR folks say they are “people-persons” or that they “love working with people” and believe it to be an asset when applying for a PR position.  I just don’t understand why this hits a nerve with me.

Look, I get it.  In order to be in PR you do have to have better than average communications skills with other humans.  So, when young students appear to have great personalities and/or people skills, teachers, parents, etc. might typically suggest that they go into PR.

Fine, but then why just PR?  I suppose we’re known to be “show people.” So then, why not clowning?  Have you ever met a circus clown that wasn’t good at or did not like working with people (okay, one comes to mind, but let’s not go there, and anyway, he wasn’t an “official” clown)? The entire purpose of being a clown is to entertain people and make them laugh, so shouldn’t they be adept at doing so and, in turn, enjoy it? Or what about post office employees working at the stamp counter – they work with people every day and also apparently seem to love it!  Yet, are students guided into postal careers because of their good natures and communications skills? Certainly not!

In reality, practically every occupation on earth requires human interaction and having to be decent enough at getting your point across so as not to offend your coworkers, customers, vendors, bosses, etc., so much that you get fired.  As far as I’m concerned, you pretty much have to work well with people to succeed in any job, but I suppose you don’t necessarily have to like it or them.   I guess that’s why there are lawyers and accountants.

I remember when I was in high school I wanted to be a veterinarian and talked to ours while taking my dog, Kenyon, for an appointment.  I told our vet that it would be so great to work with animals and less with people.  You know what he said?  He told me that yes, he does have to work with animals, but being a vet really more requires excellent people skills – because  it’s the owners you’re  ultimately servicing and interacting with.  You have to be empathetic under difficult circumstances as when pets are sick, and even just regular circumstances like, say when the crazy-cat-lady-spinster (I do not own cats) won’t stop talking about her seven cats’ various bowel movements or finicky eating habits.

Hey, don’t think I don’t like working with people, although there are truthfully some days when I just want to write and type on my computer with my dog at my feet.  For the most part, I enjoy camaraderie and communicating. I recognize that I do have a skill of being able to communicate with folks to create positive outcomes.  It’s just that I don’t believe it’s a trait germane only to PR practitioners, nor do I think I went into the PR field because of it.

Clearly, I went into PR for the great clothes and shoes.