What I Didn’t Know Before Starting in Public Relations
You could say I dipped a toe in the public relations pool in my previous career, and while that was enough to get me excited about pursuing it fulltime, it couldn’t possibly have prepared me for all the nuances of this fast-paced world.
I was in the operations department at Jamba Juice for 7 years, working my way up from the store level to project management for New Store Openings. I bore witness to all the different elements of getting the new locations up and blending, which entailed a combination of physical construction to get the doors open and marketing efforts to get the word out and draw customers in. This would serve as my introduction to the hard work our PR team did, but I never truly dove into the nitty-gritty tasks of a publicist.
Cut to today, as I type this from my desk at Konnect. I’ve been welcomed into this fast-paced, high-performing office and am starting to really understand the “magic” (read: hard work, strategic thinking and constant communication) behind successful PR campaigns. Whether you are a publicist looking to learn more, a new-hire starting your career in media relations, or a CEO trying to understand your publicist’s language, here is a quick rundown of PR perceptions vs. reality from what I’ve experienced so far.
Agency vs. In-house
Perception: In-house you have the complete freedom to run the show and delegate while your agency counterparts stress out about having multiple clients to worry about. Agencies are all about constant, around-the-clock work that is required to meet your various clients’ demands.
Reality: This can be weighed differently based on the personality of the publicist. In a public relations agency, you are constantly working in different teams and on different clients across various industries. One of the many benefits about an agency is that there will be experts on certain subjects and industries within each team, with subject-specific experts assigned to work on different strategic initiatives. In-house publicists are completely immersed in the initiatives of one single organization and are typically responsible for performing multiple roles with a wide variety of responsibilities.
Perception: That feature in the Wall Street Journal is just a phone call to your favorite editor away from being a reality. Whenever a company launches a new product or hires a new c-suite level executive, reporters everywhere will be champing at the bit to cover it.
Reality: A pitch is a highly crafted and personalized email or call to media to interest and engage them in a story about your client or their brand. This is the time to keep the information clear and concise but intriguing since you have about 1/5,000 chance that the editor you are reaching will read your note or pay attention to the subject matter. Not all pitches work, and it is important to be ready to adjust or pivot if a certain angle is not getting people’s attention.
Perception: You can export an Excel spreadsheet from the internet with the names and contact information for every media contact you’ll ever need. These contacts are responsive and eager to cover your news.
Reality: Editors, writers and reporters are constantly switching roles and companies, so a media list becomes outdated almost the second it is complete. It takes a ton of research and attention to detail to ensure that lists are constantly built and supplemented with the right contacts. To be fully effective, it is important to constantly be forming meaningful relationships with your media contacts – in exchange for the coverage they might give you, you need to be a reliable source of newsworthy information and story subjects.
Perception: Coverage is coverage, and “any publicity is good publicity.”
Reality: There are so many different types of coverage that a publicist can utilize to tell the story of their client. From product roundups to executive spotlights and business features, each media mention has the potential to affect a client’s business in a totally different way. It is important to understand what a client’s goal is before pursuing coverage in order to meet the expectations of both the person paying you and the writers looking to you for useful information.
Free time and fun
Perception: Publicists are always “on” and stressed out.
Reality: There is a lot of hard work and diligence that goes into every aspect of PR. As a publicist, you are constantly thinking three steps ahead and over-communicating to your clients. But with constant prioritization, organization and thoughtful evaluation of strategies and goals, a healthy work-life balance should be totally possible. (If you’re reading this and shaking your head, you might be at the wrong agency and should head to our Careers page.) There is a lot of fun to be had working with like-minded professionals, watching a campaign you planned come to fruition, attending events and seeing a media placement result from an idea you developed and pitched.
These are just some of the things I’ve discovered so far in my work at a Los Angeles public relations agency. My biggest piece of advice: always ask questions and work in an environment that welcomes new minds and eager learners.