Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Getting a Little Face Time

Life in high-tech PR is filled with travel. There is no getting around it. From tradeshows to client meetings to road shows to hosting press junkets, travel is just a part of the business.  While travel delays are certainly frustrating (let’s just say I had a really bad streak of luck in 2014) and flying cross country and around the world can be exhausting, there are some key benefits from travel that are invaluable.

Time with clients face-to-face is so important. As great as the promise of video conferencing is, it really is not the same as an in-person meeting, especially when you are mapping out new messaging or strategies. The back and forth banter as you work through a topic really does lead to the best results. Tradeshows also provide an opportunity to relax and get to know the people you work with on a daily basis. Many an inside joke has been created in settings such as this – how else would you learn who are the closet BeyoncĂ© or diehard Cubs fans?

The same idea applies to building relationships with the press and analysts. This audience is so important to the work we do on a daily basis and personal relationships can really make a difference. However, these days, press and analysts are dispersed all over the country. A publication can be based in New York, but it’s highly likely the editorial team is spread from sea to shining sea. So what is a PR pro to do?

At Connect2 we do as much as we can to maximize our travel to get that all-important face time with our press and analyst colleagues. As much as budgets allow, we encourage our clients to host a press and/or analyst day at their corporate headquarters. When done right, these events give the press and analysts valuable insight into the company, their customers, executives and product managers they don’t normally have access to. The time they spend on campus can really deepen their understanding of who the company is and what they are trying to accomplish.

There are also great opportunities to have individual conversations with the press and analysts that have nothing to do with the client. I have learned about the ups and downs of the college applications process from an analyst whose kids are older than mine. I’ve also had the chance to hear about a potential career move before it actually happened. All of this makes the connections stronger and increases the chance that my email will get answered over some unknown person.

We also try to have fun with our press and analyst friends. In the past we’ve hosted “No Pitch Nights” at major industry tradeshows. We pick the last night of the show and invite all of the press and analysts that are attending to a baseball game without any clients present. After all the craziness of the week, everyone appreciates the opportunity to sit back and relax and NOT hear about the latest and great product announcement. We’ve even kept it simple and taken a handful of journalists out for tapas and cocktails at smaller tradeshows for the exact same results. We get the chance to learn more about the people we talk to everyday and they get a chance to just have fun.

The opportunities I’ve had to get to know people in person all over the world make the long days and even longer airplane rides totally worthwhile. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Four Tips on How to Advance in PR Faster

More than eight years into my career as a PR person, I continue to wonder what I could have done to climb the career ladder a little faster. I feel lucky to work in a firm where superiors try to mentor their teams instead of manage them, and I try to practice this approach while leading our teams of interns and entry-level Account Coordinators. However, I would love to travel in a time machine and tell my 23-year-old self a few tips that would have made that climb a little easier.

No matter how old you are, everyone can benefit from another’s experience. Regardless of whether you’re just starting a career in PR, looking to change professions or know someone who is looking for tips, here are my personal tips on how to get to a higher rung in your career during those first five or so years.

1. Office experience: Many college students hear this all the time. In many PR study programs, internships are even mandatory to graduate. But that’s not enough. Once you get to your junior year of college, let the babysitting and waitressing jobs go and find an office position. Seriously, any office position is better than none. Even if you’re just answering phones at a front desk or organizing files in a back room. Even if you are doing something completely unrelated to the career you are studying for, the experience you absorb in an office environment is priceless. You will learn how to conduct yourself professionally in person, over the phone and digitally, and it really shows when you’re applying and interviewing for post-grad positions.

2    2. Keep in touch: I’ve found there tends to be two kinds of people. First, there are people that will drop by unannounced just because they were in the neighborhood and had a free minute (not caring if the person they’re visiting had a free minute, too). The second type is people that need a reason to drop by. Be the first. I’m not suggesting that you drop in on old bosses unannounced, but an unexpected e-mail or Linked In message is always a good idea.

I always encourage our interns to e-mail or call me after their position with us, even if it’s just to say “hi.” I am always willing to give advice and our company will always look to hire great previous interns once they have graduated and if a full-time position on our team is open.

This is something I have to work at every day, but the younger you start making it a habit, the more natural it will come later. In PR, the ability to build and nurture relationships is crucial because your success depends on the connections you develop.

3    3. Ask lots of questions, but answer them first: I am a big fan of my team asking questions. I much more prefer that you ask me 100 questions throughout your project to ensure you are doing it right, rather than you ask none, get it wrong and then you have to do it over again. However, before you ask any question, think about if you have the resources to answer it yourself first.

I realize this might sound contradictory. The real lesson here is to understand that you are included in every e-mail, meeting and discussion for a reason. Also, the Internet is a powerful tool to help you educate yourself. Don’t know how to turn a Word doc into a pdf? I bet Google will tell you. Creating a report on weekly activities? Include everything you have e-mailed, talked, heard about over the past week to demonstrate you were paying attention.

Before you ask any questions, think about if you have used your own resources to find the answer, first. If the question still needs to be asked, do it! If you can tell your manager the answers you already found or the steps you took to try to find the answer, you will demonstrate that you are thinking for yourself and ultimately bringing more value to the team.

4    4. Proofread everything, and then proof it again: I have found that graduates often think they are expert editors. However, I have yet to meet a graduate that never had any typos. I often hear “Oh yeah, I had to take an editing class in college,” but then submit content with spell check alerts still underlined in red. I admit this still happens to the best of us occasionally, but work looks sloppy if “your” is used instead of “you’re” and it’s distracting if spell check is yelling at the reader from the moment a document is opened.

Read over your work, then read it again, and maybe one more time, then submit it. There’s no doubt you have worked hard on the content, so don’t ruin it with typos. This will also help you transition to a client-facing role faster because your work is already closer to the finished product.

I won’t hold my breath for the time machine, but hopefully some young graduates out there will find value in my tips. I hope to keep climbing the PR ladder and will continue to offer my insight. I also welcome any tips others might have. As I would tell myself, keep those communication lines open!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Be About More Than What You Make – Tip #15

Most companies focus their communication efforts on the products they make and the services they offer. That makes sense as it’s these things that drive revenue and growth. However, in PR, that’s only part of the story that can be told. In my last blog, I wrote about creating a story telling engine. What I’m going to cover with this blog is creating a story line fueled by a different type of gas. 

At every major business publication (Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report, Financial Times, New York Times, Fortune, etc.) there is at least one reporter covering management and leadership. Often times, this same reporter also covers HR, employee issues, recruiting and compensation. If your company is public, or in an interesting or hot market, there is a good chance you can get them to talk to the CEO of your company. You’ll need to figure out a hook, something that the reporter can latch onto, but this is often a very good way to showcase a smart company leader and get a placement in a top tier publication. If this is a thread you’d like to pursue, spend some time with the CEO and talk to them about their management style, how they view leadership and cultivate development internally. Also ask them about groups they are involved with outside of their corporate role and how they see those positions as relevant to their job as your company’s chief executive. 

Next, read about the latest trends in management and then interview your CEO on their views so you can craft an intelligent pitch. Finally, read what the reporters at these publications (and dozens more) are writing about so you can fine tune the pitch to help them tell a story they are interested in telling.
Let’s say the CEO angle won’t work for you. Maybe you’re company is too small or your CEO isn’t interested in talking with the media. There are still plenty of other story lines that can be created that showcase your company’s path to market and the reasons you are likely to win in the marketplace. These story lines could center on your manufacturing process or channel programs, your social media strategies or community leadership.

We have a client that makes these amazing videos that help tell their corporate story, the value of what they bring to market and the challenges faced by the industry they are in. Their videos are one of the company’s primary lead-generation methods—creating awareness in the videos and driving traffic to them is a priority. To help raise the visibility of these videos, we’ve submitted them for, and they have won, numerous industry awards. These awards, and the announcements announcing the wins, have driven traffic to their YouTube channel and their website.

Another client has built a really interesting campaign called Enabling Communities, Connecting Lives that allows its customers to tell stories about how technology is having an impact on their community. We’ll look into this strategy of using customers to tell your story in the next blog of this series.

Using different types of fuel to get your story engine running means you’ll cover more miles on your journey.  And yes, I know that’s a corny way to end this blog but hey, it’s my story.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Beginner's Guide to Navigating Public Relations

Graduating from college with a four year degree can often inflate the ego to a massive size. It is surely a big accomplishment for anyone, no matter your background. It can fill you with a sense of pride and make you feel like you are on top of the world. I myself, felt that I knew what to expect after I graduated, that I knew what the world of public relations was. I had taken an informative media relations class my final semester at NC State University, and felt that I could be a great PR professional right out of the gate. Little did I realize just how big the PR world is, and how small I am in comparison.

Of course, that doesn’t diminish the job I do, rather it puts things into perspective. PR is much more than getting up in front of a bunch of reporters and saying things that you won’t have to recant or regret later that day as popularized by Hollywood and the 24 hour news organizations. I have learned in the two and a half months of my being in the PR field that it takes a proverbial village to create content and a coherent message for a client. Press lists and media relations don’t just fall from the sky like rain. It takes time, patience and knowledge about your client’s industry to get things done. I’ve also learned that the PR world rarely sleeps, requiring you to always be ready for whatever comes your way, whenever that might be.

This by no means defines PR as a boring or dreadful industry. While it may be daunting at first to understand how to maintain press lists, draft case studies, press releases, etc., you will begin to feel a certain type of pride in your work. You will begin to realize that you aren’t such a small piece of the puzzle after all. I know I have. Everyone plays a role in how good PR is generated for any company, no matter what your title or position is. If I don’t get a briefing book done and it doesn’t get sent out, then one of our clients will be unprepared for a briefing or meeting with an analyst or member of the press. That can lead to a bad quote, a misunderstanding of what the meeting is about, or anything else that can damage one of our client’s relationships with the press or analyst groups. Being on the “bottom rung” doesn’t make you any less important when it comes to PR.

Getting into PR right out of school is challenging. It will be far different from anything you are used to and you might feel as though what you are doing is mundane and pointless. Trust me, it isn’t. Everything you do has a purpose, because PR is a total team effort, despite what those in the general public believe. Just like you can’t give all the credit for a winning touchdown pass in a football game to a quarterback, no one person is responsible for amazing PR in a company.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Create a Story Telling Engine - Tip 14

Good stories just don’t happen. Like an engine, they need multiple components to work together in order to make something happen. The engine in your car doesn’t run on gasoline alone, it takes oil, coolant and a spark to get things started.  Just like a story.

Stories need to combine a variety of elements to get the reader from start to finish. Many companies forget this and try to build stories using only one facet of their company – their products. The problem is products are only part of a company’s whole story. Sure, products are often the protagonist in the story, but if that is the only aspect told, then the story is limited.

A better approach is to define a narrative that includes the marketplace, the customer and the company as a whole. Now, companies have an opportunity to articulate how a product benefits the target customer, how it offers something unique or fills a gap in the market, and how it fits in the company’s short and long terms plans to win.

The risk with only telling one line of a story is that it leaves a lot up to the imagination of the reader. Basically, the storyteller is asking the reader to connect all the dots themselves – why the product matters to customers, what are the competitive differentiators and where the company fits in the marketplace. That’s a lot to ask of any reader.

A good PR program should be, in essence, a story telling engine for the company. The market, customers, investors and other interested parties all need to understand where the company is going and how each move it makes fits in the longer, broader narrative.  To do this, PR needs to dig deeper into the company’s business and market objectives to understand the story in long form.

A deeper understanding of what is happening in the market is needed so the PR team can maximize how announcements fit into events that are shaping the respective industry. PR must also be willing to take the time to understand the company’s products and appreciate what goes into bringing a specific product to market. Finally, PR needs to understand what is driving customers to look for the products and technologies a company sells, so they can match their company’s narrative to the story a prospect wants to hear.

This takes time and can’t be done on the fly. This idea of creating a story telling engine is fundamental to transforming public relations from passive to active and into a program that creates real, long-term value for a company and not just quick hits that few remember.