Post written by Nollie Haws
As a college freshman still deciding on what to major in, a course entitled “Intro to Public Relations” caught my eye. “I’m a people person,” I thought, and enrolled for the following semester.
In one of our first classes, a visiting professor gave a lecture on “puffery,” a term I’d never heard before. It refers to exaggerated or false praise, a communication strategy that some businesses and individuals employ to make something sound better than it is. His point was that as aspiring PR pros, we needed to avoid puffery because you lose credibility, and it’s a reason why sometimes PR people are referred to as “hacks”. I was fascinated by the discussion and hooked on the previously unknown intricacies of the communication field.
As the semester proceeded, we learned about press releases, PR plans, media relations, pitching, crisis management, internal and external audiences, and all the other aspects of communication of which you are familiar. Needless to say, I quickly realized that succeeding as a public relations and communications professional requires much more than just being social. Drawn from education and experience, here are some of my “Must-Have Skills for Communicators.”
1. Strong Writing and Editing Chops
Writing, writing, and more writing. Good writing is the basis for good communication and must be a foundational part of your skill set. Since many collegiate PR/comms tracks are associated with a journalism program, most beginning communications students learn the fundamentals of journalistic writing: The inverted pyramid, the 5 Ws and H (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How). It’s vital to learn the style and language of the media you will interact with, as well as what makes a good story. You also must write tight, concise prose that conveys your message clearly and quickly.
This is especially important in our current attention economy, where you only have a few words to get your point across and make an impact before your audience moves on to the next thing that catches their eye. Writing is also essential as you’re likely tasked with lots of content creation (especially for SEO) and have to write for varying audiences.
Related to writing, you must also be a good editor - thorough and ruthless with your own and others’ words to make sure the message is not only grammatically correct, but conveys the right tone and meaning for its audience.
2. Organizational Skills
No matter what type of work setup you have (agency, freelance, in-house, whatever), you’ve got to have your crap together, literally and figuratively. Whether you’re managing one client or many, you have to not only balance meetings, documents, correspondence, and deadlines, but also have the brain space to anticipate and prepare for communication issues that might come up. Just this week I read an article stating that communicators now must add deep fake and fake news response strategy to their PR crisis plans. Something else for your list!
Lots of new tech tools help with organization. Some that you might find helpful are:
Technology is inescapable, so harness it to become a master of, not a slave to, all the projects you’re juggling at once.
3. Trying the Newest Things First
Over the past decade, communication has expanded beyond mainstream media outlets to social media to AI to VR to video everything. If relevant media, influencers, clients, customers, or potential audience are there, you need to be familiar with it. Find out how different tools or platforms can help communicate your message to different groups.
The Pew Research Center writes that “Social media sites have emerged as a go-to platform for connecting with others, finding news and engaging politically” and that 72 percent of U.S. adults engage with a social media platform regularly.
Popular social media platforms for brands are Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter. And quite a few are now dabbling in Tik Tok. As you create content, think about how it can be incorporated into social sharing. Also consider how you can create conversations with your audiences that help them feel a connection to the business, product, or service. Conversations show that companies are listening and offer a great way to get useful feedback that can help make better products and services and improve customer outcomes.
The immediate nature of social media also makes it one of the most useful tools for communicating quickly with customers and journalists and for responding in real time to any PR issues.
You will need more visual content to accompany social media, with video most often being more useful and engaging than just a picture.
This helpful article from Incentric Digital Marketing outlines the importance of video for marketing/communication and how to implement an effective video use strategy. Some important points they mention:
If you’re wondering if you or your clients can afford video, Spin Sucks has some tips on how to pay for video without busting your budget.
As one recent article stated, “Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will finally proliferate in 2020. Communication pros will seek creative ways to use the emerging technologies to better deliver corporate and brand messages to consumers.”
Forbes predicts that VR will be used more widely for training and teaching, entertainment, in cars, and general industry purposes. How can these tools work for the companies you work with?
4. Being Social
Don't worry. Those “people person” leanings that tipped me toward communications didn’t go to waste. Even if you’re not an extrovert, your interpersonal skills will come in handy every day. It might be when you need to tactfully counsel an executive that their preferred path isn’t the best strategy. Or if you have an upset client or customer and need to explain things quickly and clearly to smooth things over without making matters worse. Perhaps you’re trying to land new business and need to illustrate what unique attributes you bring to the table.
Careful listening, tact, the ability to talk to people from all different backgrounds, consideration of various viewpoints, and being positive, efficient, and clear-headed will aid you as you serve your clients and put your many communication skills to work.
What Do You Think?
Do you have anything to add to this list? What skills do you think communicators must have to thrive in the ever-changing media, social, business, and political landscapes?
Learn When A Press Release Is The Right Way To Break Through The Clutter
Post written by Linda Barger
Gone are the days when you need an announcement for every award or promotion. A simple Tweet might suffice. It really depends on who you’re trying to reach and how they get their news. So how do you know when you need a press release and why you should use an alternative? That’s what I’m going to discuss.
But first, it’s important to explain where I’m coming from. I’m part of a team of on-the-go integrated communications and marketing experts who spend the majority of our days not in a traditional office, but outside of four walls. When you’re out doing stuff, you tend to find a muse more easily than just sitting at your desk all day. Or at least, that’s my philosophy. Out with the old and in with the new or something along those lines. However, that doesn’t mean that there are some tried and true tools that will always remain in my idea box. A press release is one of those tools. So why then isn’t it as affective as it used to be?
For starters, press releases are a dime a dozen. There are more than 1,000 press releases issued ever day. If you’re a journalist, that can fill up your inbox faster than you can click the delete button. Well, maybe not, but you get the idea. It’s a lot of clutter to break through. And then there’s the part where journalists are moving away from press releases as news sources.
Despite these stats, I still use press releases and think they’re an effective tool for businesses to use to communicate company growth, moves and events, but not on their own. And while the release is appropriate for some things, it’s a waste of time with others.
"Press Releases are an effective tool for business to communicate company growth, moves and events, but not on their own."
Before I dig into what real news looks like, I first have to mention that the most impactful PR programs today are a combination of paid and earned media opportunities with the right audience. With more than 12,000 press releases issued every year and that they’re being devalued by search engines, SEO isn’t going to help. Sending a press release as a pitch to even the most targeted writer is just a bunch of words in a mail inbox with hundreds, if not thousands, of others.
The best way to get the media’s attention is to engage them BEFORE you have something you want them to write about - and keep it going. Find the right people who are following the topics relevant to your business, follow them on social, share their articles, comment on their content, engage in conversation. And then, come to them with information that isn’t just a promotion for your company, but useful and helpful news from which that writer’s audience can benefit.
Okay, I’m going to repeat myself to emphasize a key point. A press release cannot just promote your company, but it must contain useful and helpful news from which that writer’s audience can benefit. You have to be able to explain why their audience will be interested too, and it’s probably very specific to each outlet and writer. Since everything is data-driven these days, sending fresh (not stale) stats or data might help.
More specifically, not every product announcement needs a press release. If it’s an industry game changer, then it could be newsworthy. How do you know before you announce? The company should be doing its research and have some data to back up the claim. If it’s a world’s first or customers were asking for it, prove it! It’s not uncommon to have a few writers or industry analysts under NDA or embargo that you can run your story by to gauge if your announcement is going to get picked up. But again, you have to already have relationships with these influencers if you’re going to get their feedback ahead of time. Not all journalists will agree to keep news confidential until the embargo lifts, so you have to find out who will.
So, the next time you’re thinking about writing a press release, ask yourself a few basic questions to be sure it’s the right way to go. Questions like…who is our target audience? Will they care about this news and why? How will it benefit them? For example, is this a world’s first or industry first that’s going to dramatically impact your industry and target market? Do you have research to support these claims and can site the source? If you can prove to a writer that their audience cares, then you have a higher chance of landing a story.
If not, don’t waste your time and consider the alternatives. You still have a story to tell and are looking for the right delivery method. Who’s your target audience and how are they getting their news? Are they reading about it online or would they rather see it in a video?
A video, a story, a graphic or still image and caption are just a few ideas of content you can create and share. There are many channels for distributing your content, more than I can list, whether it’s sharing and boosting a video on social or publishing a story on an online publishing platform like Medium. There’s a mat release, which is different than a press release by the way, because it’s typically written for consumers, and you pay for someone to write the story and are guaranteed some media placement. A press release can be for consumers or otherwise, such as an enterprise or B2B audience, and is earned media. With a press release there’s no guarantee you’ll get coverage from media, influencers or on social.
Don’t forget the visual element!
If you’ve read the above and are a go on your press release, then there’s one more element that is crucial to its success--the visuals. Don’t ever issue a release without at very least including an image and caption. Videos are even better.
Speaking of visuals, I hope you have a clearer image in your mind’s eye of why you need a press release and what accounts as real news. At very least, the next time you hear the word “announcement” mentioned in a planning meeting, be sure you take a moment to consider if it’s press-release worthy. If not, you’ll know how to educate people about why it’s not newsworthy enough and offer ideas for what to recommend as the best alternative approach.
Share what you've learned with your social community and hashtag #JRWPR to keep the conversation going.
Meet the Women Who Inspire Us Daily
Girl power. That’s what fuels the team at JRWPR. What got each one of us to this point in our respective careers, besides our own intelligence and tenacity, are the trailblazing women that came before us. We believe that "strong women empower other women" and know that we wouldn't be doing what we're doing without the women that not only work alongside us in our field, but those in the public eye doing truly amazing things.
Clearly Jen, the brains and the risk taker behind JRWPR, is at the top of our list of the women we admire most. We've excluded present company to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Take a peek at our list of women that inspire us every day.
Nollie’s sHeroes of PR and marketing
Michelle Olson - Head of Public Relations, Fingerpaint
“Michelle was one of my first PR mentors. When I was a grad student at Arizona State University, I worked for her at her own agency, Olson Communications. She is a stellar example of someone who is a leader and gives back not only in the PR community (she has been on the national PRSA board of directors twice), but the larger Phoenix, Arizona community as well. Michelle exemplifies balancing motherhood and career with grace and wisdom. She is smart, driven, caring, funny, kind, and generous. Watching her work and guide others more junior in their careers has influenced my own career.”
Katie Couric – Journalist, Author, and Media Mogul
“Katie Couric has been my idol ever since my days as a journalism student. Her blend of intelligence, sass, humor, mad interviewing skills, and ability to cover any topic with fairness and compassion continues to inspire me. I have loved watching her evolve as the media landscape has evolved. From the Today Show to CBS News to managing editor/anchor to the owner of Katie Couric Media, where she creates documentaries, podcasts, short video, Instagram, and streaming content, as well as a daily newsletter that blends hard news with lighter lifestyle topics. She's inquisitive and covers a variety of topics with her trademark insightful approach, inviting her audience to learn along with her.”
Linda’s sHeroes of PR and marketing
Michelle Obama - Lawyer, Author, and Former First Lady
“Professionally, Michelle is well educated and accomplished (a lawyer, a writer, and university administrator), but personally, she's a mother and a wife, and handles life in the public eye admirably. One of the things I admire most about her is that she has kept active even after her husband’s presidency. Her book ‘Becoming’ has inspired so many people, including me. While I imagine she could be intimidating in person, she comes across as very down-to-earth and personable. She's a shining example of a public figure with an excellent reputation, which isn't easy to do.”
Joanna Gaines – Designer, Author, Reality TV Host, Media Executive
“Joanna balances her family and work-life while quite literally, building an empire. Plus, she has amazing taste! Everything she does seems to turn to gold from her interior design, partnerships with retailers, posts on social media, and interviews on the TODAY Show. And she does so in a seemingly effortless fashion.”
Jen’s sHeroes of PR and marketing
Kellye Crane - Founder, and Karen Swim, Current Leader, SoloPR
“Both Kellye and Karen identified the opportunity for many people to enjoy the benefits of being a solo practitioner and created a supportive community to help those doing it or interest in pursuing it. They selflessly created a community of support that now includes training and mentorship for all aspects of building a solo business. I’ve watched both women personally and professionally support each other as well as the entire community. They are an inspiration for how to get out of your comfort zone.”
Rachel Kay - President, Rachel Kay Public Relations (RKPR)
“I met Rachel when we were pitching the same potential client as solo consultants more than a decade ago, and she won the business. Damn her! ;) She shared me early on she wanted to build an agency. I thought she was nuts at such an early age to want the responsibility of a team. She was right, and she’s done it well. I’ve watched her grow her amazing team of dedicated PR pros (one member has been with her practically from the beginning) to a global lifestyle PR agency with offices in SD and NYC.”
Kim’s sHeroes of PR and marketing
Rachel Hollis - Author, Motivational Speaker, Blogger, and The Chic Site Founder
“Rachel got her start in marketing and event planning where her uber-relatable blog got noticed and subsequently took off. She has a knack for creating content (and now products) that people ravenously consume. She’s even turned some pretty big gaffes (the launch of her daily journals crashed her server within minutes) into huge PR wins – more demand! More supply! More sales! Not to mention, her 3 novels are silly, fun, and the perfect poolside read.”
Glennon Doyle - Author, Activist, Philanthropist, and Together Rising Founder
“Glennon isn’t a PR or marketing pro. But what she does is create content that grabs and holds my attention. Her social feed isn’t finely curated (and overly filtered). It’s gritty, mismatched, and important. She writes from her heart and encourages her 614,000 followers to do the same. From quips about returning shopping carts to encouraging social and political activism, I don’t just ‘like and scroll’ past her posts, I dig in, head and heart first.”
Unanimous sHero of PR and marketing
Tracy Benelli - Communications Consultant, Advisor, Strategist, and The Relevant You Founder
We all agree that Tracy is wise, an excellent listener, witty, whip-smart, thoughtful, and empowers others to see their own potential. She also has a gift for being able to step back and see the bigger picture of companies, issues, and ideas and then patiently but firmly explain why a particular course of action should be pursued. Tracy is not afraid to speak truth to power and is a powerful woman herself. She is just plain fierce. She knows her stuff and unapologetically shares her thoughts, suggestions, concerns, and counsel (a boon for her clients and her teams).
If we could have one superpower, it would be to be able to speak like Tracy. She has a gift, and we are indebted to her for bringing us together as JRWPR.
Did we pick your sHero?
Or is your PR and marketing mentor missing from this list? Empower other women by sharing your personal and professional sHeroes with us. Click to post this list to social and hashtag #JRWPR to join the conversation.