Can you stand another blog post filled with good advice?
This week’s wise words came from Bruce Bobbins, executive vice president at Manhattan-based PR firm DKC. Among DKC’s 200 clients are governments, nonprofits and major corporations from Aeropostale to Yahoo with companies including Coca-Cola, Delta, Jaguar, Marvel, the Knicks, and dozens of other internationally-known brands. During a visit arranged by Hofstra PRSSA President Nathalie Retana, Bruce hosted 20 Hofstra students and me last Friday, and over pizza and soft drinks shared his personal and professional insights on what it takes to do public relations well.
Bruce said he’s enjoyed every minute of his three decades in PR. But like many senior PR people, he didn’t go to college to learn public relations. Bruce wanted to be a sportscaster, but when an internship at a PR firm turned into a job offer, he seized upon it. He found he was attracted to public relations initially because he enjoyed writing, and emphasized to the students the importance of the “3 C’s” of good writing–clarity, conciseness and creativity.
Bruce described good PR people as “three-headed monsters.” He said that effective public relations practitioners have three job descriptions: they have to be journalists and good story-tellers, they should be salespeople so they can create and maintain good client and media relationships, and they must be strategic counselors who guide their organizations through the often treacherous maze of public opinion. “You can do well in this business doing two of these three functions. But you’d do better if you can do all three.”
Bruce also spoke about empathy. “Be compassionate,” he told the students. He suggested that doing PR well also means caring about those who you can help through nonprofit organizations, and the people whose lives are improved because of social responsibility and good work your clients can do.
Finally, Bruce told his young guests that going to work every day has to be fulfilling. “Love what you do, have passion for it.”
Bruce and I are of the same generation and had very different PR careers, but I couldn’t agree more. Your thoughts?
There were many wise words provided by PR veterans to more than 1,000 students at last week’s conference of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) in Washington, D.C. Perhaps the most significant session was titled, “A Conversation with Living Legends,” featuring Thomas Hoog, former president and CEO of Hill+Knowlton, and Maril MacDonald, CEO and founder of Gagen MacDonald. There was also a keynote by Pam Jenkins, president of Powell Tate. I wondered which words made a lasting impression, so I took notes and thought I’d share some of their terrific pearls of wisdom here:
Hoog: “In PR, we’re all about truth. Not hype, not spin, but truth. There’s no place for spin in our profession.”
MacDonald: “Loving to learn is the number one characteristic I look for when hiring. I look for people who are engaging. They are interested and interesting.
Jenkins: “Five years from now this industry will look different than it does today. Embrace disruption–and cause it.”
Hoog: “Listen, incubate, initiate.”
MacDonald: “Take the job that scares you the most and jump in!”
Jenkins: “We’re living in the Age of Engagement. When it comes to every day things, we turn to each other rather than experts.”
Hoog: “I believe in the ‘three bone’ theory of recruitment. I look for people who have a funny bone, a backbone and a wish bone.”
MacDonald: “Everyone is clamoring for people who are good at storytelling and making things very visual.”
Jenkins: “Most companies want to tell their stories directly to their customers. We in PR agencies need people with new skills (including) video producers, designers, creators, people who know analytics, who understand the news media, plus we need MBA’s and PhD’s.”
Hoog: “Clear, concise and credible communication is essential for PR leadership.”
There was no shortage of good advice at the PRSSA conference. Which of these pearls of wisdom resonate for you? Which will you remember? And what will inspire you to do something different on behalf of your own public relations career? Your thoughts?
My t-shirt (photo, r.) got some laughs at the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) conference in Washington, D.C. this weekend. It was a birthday gift from my daughters, and it’s precisely what I find myself saying to my students when they seem surprised by an assignment or a class policy. In fact, most teachers say it a lot, and in its silly way it speaks volumes about how much we all simply don’t pay enough attention.
I can tell you with some embarrassment that I’ve almost thrown out checks and credit cards, because the mail looked like junk and I was too careless to open the envelope. We allow ourselves to become so distracted that we don’t read past the cover or think things through or ponder before taking action. We multitask to our own detriment and, as a result, we wind up making mistakes and missing opportunities. Hallway conversations become quasi-meetings, and email messages become a substitute for contemplative brainstorming and conversation.
This is why I enjoy conferences as much as I do. I relish the chance to completely focus on a presentation. The cell phone is off, no TV is on, the dog isn’t asking to play, and no one’s dropping by the office with a quick question. I get to listen to every word, share ideas and contemplate how they apply to my own experience. And that is exactly the point of a conference. It’s a chance to get away from our every day environment and do some critical thinking–without interruptions. Then we enhance our professional lives by applying what we’ve learned.
Yes, it’s on the syllabus. It’s in the envelope. It’s in the classroom, at the conference, in the program. It’s taking time to hear the words and really listen. It’s enjoying the parts of our day when we can pause, observe, and experience the moment. Sometimes it’s just forcing ourselves to slow down, pay attention and think. Your thoughts?
Next week: What I heard and learned at
the PRSSA conference
He’s 65 now, short and stocky, and looks more like an everyman than a piano man. He’s been in a mental hospital and rehab, wrecked at least three cars and a motorcycle, lost two fortunes, and has three ex-wives including a supermodel and a woman half his age. Yet there wasn’t an empty seat at Madison Square Garden last Thursday as Billy Joel played his monthly concert. Despite a checkered life, he is, without a doubt, adored by his audiences.
We see how quickly entertainers’ careers can flounder when they have personal struggles and public controversies. Their public images suffer (examples: Justin Bieber, Charlie Sheen, Ray Rice, Lindsay Lohan), and they’re often mocked and shunned by people in their own industry. Some recover from their issues and regain public favor; others never do. Billy Joel has navigated the negatives in his life and has enjoyed the public’s goodwill throughout his career, especially now. Here’s why:
First, there’s his music. His prolific catalog of hits places him among the biggest superstars. His songs’ lyrics speak of people we know and are, events and places we’ve seen and been, and take us to the times we heard them and sang along. And sing along we did at the Garden–more than 18 thousand people belting out “Piano Man”, “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” and many others.
Locally this summer, Newsday’s “That’s SO Long Island” competition saw 520,000 voters place Joel number one–ahead of 64 foods, attractions, celebrities and activities including Jones Beach! He told Newsday, “My perspective of things all comes from a Long Island point of view.” Joel was born, raised and still lives on Long Island, calling it his “favorite place” in a state tourism ad. He’s raised money for Long Island Cares, Sandy Relief, and joins others cleaning a beach each year on behalf of the North Oyster Bay Baymen’s Association and Friends of the Bay.
Billy Joel’s a superstar who looks and thinks like us, and he spends his time and money on our behalf, too. This–and his wonderful music–is why the Piano Man remains Mr. Popular. Your thoughts?
This past summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to work as a legal intern at NBCUniversal. The company’s corporate environment allowed me to met many extraordinary people and observe the daily work flow. Upon mingling with the other interns on my floor, I learned that the office adjacent to mine was designated to the company’s corporate social responsibility department. I was unaware at the time that this was a subdivision of public relations. Looking back at it now, I realize how attentive and involved those employees were to every single aspect of the company. My experiences with them and enrollment in this class has helped me better understand the comprehensive field of public relations.
As a television and business major, I have studied extensively the history and principles of modern-day media. However, my curricular and personal knowledge of TV has only been focused on the industry’s production process and business management. But after being introduced to the functions of a public relations department/agency, I see how important it is to a client/company’s publicity, especially in the entertainment area. In addition to this, I am now collaborating with a number of PR majors and club presidents after becoming the new social media producer for Hofstra Today. Working with them has given me a better insight to the field as well as a first hand PR experience.
Now knowing more about the public relations field, I have an outstanding sense of admiration and respect for those working in the industry. I realize that I have only been exposed to a small portion of public relations, but their efforts in other areas and businesses do not go unnoticed. The professionals in this field are true Renaissance men and women, adept in all forms of communication and many other important skills. I may have not been too familiar with the profession at first, but now I have a better perspective of what public relations actually entails.
Everyone should have something to point to
Something to be proud of
Look what I did, see what I’ve done
I did the job, I was the one
— from the musical “Working“
I felt kind of proud this week when WordPress electronically congratulated me on reaching 200 times that I’ve posted here on Public Relations Nation. It meant I haven’t missed a week in almost four years and I’m actually surprised at my consistency. You see, despite my somewhat organized persona, I can be quite the procrastinator and it sometimes take a lot of effort to get me to start–and finish–a job. Of course, working is much easier when you enjoy it, and writing this little PR blog for my students and colleagues is something I can point to.
Speaking of working, this past week Hofstra’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter hosted several faculty members who revealed the paths they each took in their PR careers. A student asked how she could distinguish herself among her fellow student interns. The PR program’s newest faculty member, Kara Alaimo, responded, “Work really, really hard.” Professor Alaimo, who held multiple internships during college, noted that she earned positive feedback from her supervisors because she always gave every task her all.
As questions about jobs and working flowed, other faculty members expressed that success really only depends on what you’re willing to invest. They also advised the 40 students gathered to stand out by “finding something you love and really excelling at it” and “keeping an open mind about your future” and “making your boss’s job easier.”
Some marketing people call the something that makes a product or a person different and special a “unique selling proposition.” This concept forces us to find what makes us different than others who will be competing for the same jobs. We need to find our passion and do something really well–and then ensure that others see and recognize our efforts. Because as we achieve whatever we define as success, we all need something to point to, something to be proud of. Your thoughts?
“Eighty percent of life is showing up.” — Woody Allen
When students roll their eyes at the notion of attending PR-related events outside of class, I feel compelled to make the argument that it’s for their own good. And, to be sure, it is.
Countless students have found internships, gotten interviews and been offered jobs from those they met at PRSSA-sponsored events. They’ve also participated in professional development events held by organizations such as the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) or the Public Relations Professionals of Long Island (PRPLI) that sometimes charge a fee. I suggest the $10 or $20 cost is a small but very worthwhile investment in their futures. Some on- and off-campus networking events and professional programs are free, so the only investments needed are time and a personal commitment to create opportunities.
There are always good reasons NOT to show up at an event. We can all point to other obligations, from jobs to homework to family to going out with friends. But each time we don’t participate, we’ve missed a chance to meet people who can help us learn and grow professionally.
If you’re a student, some of your fellow classmates (and your future competition for jobs) get it. They understand the need to make an effort if they’re serious about a public relations career. They’re also the ones who get hired soon after or sometimes even before they graduate.
For 30 years, I was pretty much never hired after answering an ad. Just about every position I’ve held, client I’ve signed, and PR campaign I’ve conducted, began with a professional relationship I had made with someone who was later in a position to hire me. In fact, I got my first PR job when I was recruited by a former classmate who then held a corporate position. The moral of the story: You never know who’ll end up in a place of influence and importance.
So, make friends with the person sitting next to you. Come to on- and off-campus events. Participate, network and learn. Show up. Your thoughts?
When learning the 20th century history of public relations, we often focus on Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays. Lee’s 1906 “Declaration of Principles” and Bernays’ 1923 book “Crystallizing Public Opinion” had profound impact on the growth and understanding of the profession. Students of PR history should also know Arthur Page, who built on their early efforts and helped shaped public relations as we know it today.
Page, who served as vice president of public relations for AT&T from 1927-1946, created the “Seven Principles of Public Relations Management.” They are as relevant now as they were nearly a century ago. Here’s a slightly edited version:
- Tell the truth. Let the public know what’s happening and provide an accurate picture of the company’s character, ideals and practices.
- Prove it with action. Public perception of an organization is determined 90 percent by what it does and ten percent by what it says.
- Listen to the customer. To serve the company well, understand what the public wants and needs. Keep top decision makers and other employees informed.
- Manage for tomorrow. Anticipate public reaction and eliminate practices that create difficulties. Generate goodwill.
- Conduct public relations as if the whole company depends on it. No corporate strategy should be implemented without considering its impact on the public. The public relations professional is a policy maker capable of handling a wide range of corporate communications activities.
- Realize a company’s true character is expressed by its people. The strongest opinions — good or bad — about a company are shaped by the words and deeds of its employees. Corporate communications must support each employee’s capability and desire to be an honest, knowledgeable ambassador.
- Remain calm, patient and good-humored. When a crisis arises, remember that cool heads communicate best.
When a 21st century PR practitioner is performing skillfully, ethically and effectively, there’s little question that Page’s principles have greatly influenced their actions. Students of PR–and PR professionals on the front lines every day–must remember to embrace Page’s sage advice. His tenants are what makes our profession uniquely necessary in our world of constant communication. Your thoughts?
‘Why?’ asks the confused waiter. ‘I’m a panda,’ he says, at the door. ‘Look it up.’
The waiter turns to the relevant entry and finds a poorly punctuated explanation: Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”
As classes began this week, I created widespread fear when I emphasized that success in public relations requires excellent writing skills. An often-repeated maxim in our industry states that a press release with a misspelled word or a poorly-constructed sentence is the quickest route to the garbage pail or delete button.
The maxim was reinforced in an article this week by Brian Pittman in the Bulldog Reporter’s “Daily Dog” in which he wrote about PR trainer Michael Smart. Smart’s interviews with journalists revealed what bothers them most about PR writing. He listed types of approaches which reporters say are the “seven deadly sins of PR writing:”
- Vague, fluffy
- Few facts
- Rambling, verbose
- Overly promotional
- Jargon-prone, technical
- Indirect, doesn’t get to the point
Smart highlighted other problems including (yikes!) when PR people can’t write a simple, declarative sentence — using a subject, a verb and an object. He suggested those “overly promotional” words including “groundbreaking,” “state-of-the-art,” “cutting edge,” and “landmark” are real reporter turn-offs. Smart concluded by noting how spell check should only be used as a first step in the proofreading process; it isn’t the last word on whether something is written well. “Take a break… read it out loud, start from the bottom, and have someone else look at it,” he said.
Can everyone quickly improve their PR writing? Yes! Get an AP Stylebook, where you’ll find standards on grammar, punctuation, abbreviations, numerals, capitalization, and much more. There are countless similar books available, although I highly recommend “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” by Lynne Truss, which humorously illustrates the importance of punctuation and grammar. The book’s title comes from the joke which began this article. Now go back and read it again–out loud.
A new academic year is about to begin and I can’t wait. Across the country approximately 21 million students will be enrolled in college, more than ever before, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Most members of the freshmen class will have been born in or around 1996, about 37 years after me.
These numbers represent a challenge for educators my age, especially when teaching a subject as ever-evolving as public relations. Many of us can remember when press releases were created on typewriters and mailed in envelopes using stamps we had to lick. Since those primitive tools, we’ve witnessed astounding changes, and as professionals we’ve had to keep our skills sharp and up-to-date. We former PR pros must stay ahead of the curve to teach the latest trends, techniques and tools with future public relations practitioners.
Even during the four years I’ve been teaching full-time at Hofstra University, change has come fast and furious. For example, college students now favor using Twitter and Instagram over Facebook. Online video is rapidly becoming the most effective way to move people to action, and YouTube is now the second most-used search engine, behind Google. These changes in how people are using social media have profoundly impacted the way PR people do their jobs. We don’t just pitch stories, promote clients and diffuse crises; we have to be content providers — creating words, pictures and video for online platforms and web sites in an ongoing planned effort to gain attention and inspire positive attitudes and responses. To do this, we need to be more than good writers and pitch-persons; we must manage and master the current multi-media desktop and mobile tools, and use them to tell our stories very effectively.
For the new PR students who may think the profession is about red carpet events and flashy media moments, it’s more often not. Most of what we do is to use traditional and new media tools create content to initiate, persuade and change opinions. I’m excited about what’s next…are you? Your thoughts?