I recently began looking for an entry-level PR person to help me with my client load.
I preferred this person to 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—that it’s very tough to find someone equipped with the basic building blocks to be a rock star in this field.
In the end, I hired the only candidate who 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.
I will never hire someone who isn’t an excellent writer, because that person will not be successful pitching nor in written
communications to clients or the 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. Reporters are inundated with hundreds, if not thousands, of 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 must be tenacious and try new
angles. 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.
[Download: How to tell compelling stories that navigate through the noise, boost your brand, and drive sales.]
2. Organization is key. Be organized to the extreme. Starting out, a PR Coordinator is the person who will be pitching daily on an account. Remember who you’ve already pitched, who is interested in your news, who responded negatively, who changed outlets or moved to a new beat. Keep a "home run" list of top outlets in which your client would like to see their news, and remember who you’ve pitched at those.
It helps to try
multiple beats at these outlets with multiple pitch angles fitting these beats. Give adequate time—but not too much—between follow ups. Walk the line between persistence and annoyance. Not everyone can balance it with the poise required.
3. Write well. 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 the audience would care, you break through the clutter. Many PR people
complain about getting no feedback from reporters. If you take the time to write a great pitch, chances of getting feedback are greater.
4. You must understand client relations. Client relations and media relations are not the same thing. Not even remotely. First you have to understand there are no
media relations without clients to pitch. PR people should listen to—and manage—clients expectations while also delivering the
results they expect from hiring a PR agency.
Discuss at length why audiences will care about the client's product or 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 reporter
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.
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. Yet 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 reporters (at times, you’re taking flak from
both ends simultaneously).
You may work for 20 hours straight one day for an opportunity that gets cancelled last-minute. Or you may work
20 hours straight one day and never receive so much as a nod of acknowledgement for getting your client on "Ellen." 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.
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 client 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.
Katie Wagner is a partner at Remark Media Relations.