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Book Smart vs. Street Smart: What I’ve Learned about PR Outside the Classroom

Qualified specialist

While I was earning my degrees in public relations and communication from Penn State University, I was already putting these skills into practice for some of my first clients. It’s amazing to look back and realize that real businesses put their trust in a young student who had really just “book smart” PR skills, and little to no real-life application. What’s even more amazing, is some of these very first clients continue to work with me to this day.

Now, I have matched and well exceed the length of that college education with “street smart” PR experience. Over the last six years, I continue to place a high value on forever educating myself on the latest trends and techniques in the public relations field. This just happens to come in a different form than a brick-and-mortar classroom. From networking groups and industry associations, to simply staying up to date on the news, it takes dedication and a hunger to learn, not just degrees upon degrees, to fine tune your PR skills.

Here are the key public relations skills I’ve gained since leaving the classroom and entering the real world, and I would consider all of these to be critical to the success of my PR consulting business!

Prospecting and Qualifying Clients

Early in my business, I would take on pretty much any client who came my way. I kind of had to. I have no idea how to prospect or qualify these contacts to ensure they would be a good fit for my business. This wasn’t something I was taught in my PR classes. I learned how to develop goals and tactics for clients, once I had them, but I wasn’t taught the important early steps like first matching a client’s needs with my services.

I’ve become very “street smart” with qualifying leads. I don’t immediately commit to a meeting or even a phone call until I’ve done a bit of homework and asked some essential questions. This has saved me a lot of billable work hours, and has afforded me a few more afternoon naps.

Growing Long-Term Relationships

Another valuable skill not found in textbooks is the ability to turn one-time projects into quarterly or annual retainers. This has become my bread and butter. Just about every single client that has started off with a small or finite project (website content, monthly blogs, media training session) has come back to then sign on with an ongoing contract worth sometimes 10x more per month than that first contract. The key to setting yourself up for residual business with a client is handling that initial project, no matter how small, with the same passion and dedication you would handle your biggest annual retainer. Often a client is testing you to see if you’re a good fit for a long-term relationship. Don’t fail this test!

Effectively Managing Payments

In the first half of 2017 alone, I’ve billed 25+ clients, many on a monthly or quarterly basis. That’s a lot of invoices to manage! My (oddly reluctant) switch to using QuickBooks couldn’t have come at a better time. Rather than relying on a spreadsheet, or worse, a post-it note on my computer, I diligently log everything into QuickBooks. Invoicing is still a process I must make time to do, but it’s a much more streamlined one. I can see what clients owe me money at any time and how many days has passed since issuing the invoice. My husband jokes I could be a bounty hunter in my next life. And to my tax attorney, you’re welcome in advance!

Monetizing “Scope Creep”

This skill ties back to “growing long-term relationships.” It’s a good thing my clients often come to me for more work! However, it can go south when these clients don’t realize the additional work requires additional time and needs to be billed as such. Fresh out of college, I lacked the business savvy to monetize the “scope creep” of a project. I would bill it as “good will” and do the work without earning an extra cent. I still believe in some good will favors, but I only have a certain amount of good will to pour into any given client.

Rather, I am quick to show my interest in taking on this additional work for a client and let them know upfront that I would be happy to give them a proposal for that additional work. This softly reminds them that the work they’re asking to have completed is outside their current contact. I can do it, but for a fee. I have not once had a bad reaction. Clients often respond “Oh of course, I want to pay you for your additional work.” I’m so glad I’m not still losing money on all that good will I was throwing around!

Knowing When to Let Go

Knowing when to cut ties with a client that is no longer a good fit for your business was never covered in any of my PR textbooks, that’s for sure! This is a skill I am still learning along that way, and unfortunately it still remains a pretty steep learning curve. Because of my ability to prospect and qualify clients, I have reduced the need to let a client go, but it has and still will happen from time to time.

What I’ve learned is, make it about you, not them. Don’t focus on their shortcomings, as tempting as it may be, but rather focus on why your business isn’t in a position to best serve them. Be upfront, keep it short and do it early! Those are my pearls of wisdom.

Having Confidence in a Unique Vision

Lastly, the ability to believe in yourself and not compare your journey against someone else’s is something I 100% had to learn outside of the classroom. This applies to both business and life. I am passionate about being a PR consultant. I don’t want a big firm with lots of employees and overhead. I want the complete freedom and flexibility to take on all of my own clients, team up with power partners when I need it, or run a completely lean operation when I don’t. I want to take unlimited vacation days and hit the gym at 2 in the afternoon, if I want!

I like that no client or colleague owns my time completely. I have a unique business model to which many cannot relate. It’s taken time for me to confidently say “I’m a professional public relations consultant” without feeling the need to hide behind a fictitious and irrelevant title like “CEO” or “Principal” to make it sound like a run a big firm. After all, I advocate for my clients to be transparent and genuine; it’s important I am too.

In your career, how would you compare your book smarts to your street smarts? Which do you value more? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

 
 

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How Public Relations is different than Advertising

PR vs Advertising

So often lines are blurred when it comes to Public Relations and Advertising. While the two certainly overlap, there are distinct differences that determine how and when you should use them in your communications strategy.

A solid plan can and should have elements of both, but it’s important to understand their unique roles and seek out different professionals to represent each one to ensure you’re not using Advertising to solve a Public Relations problem or vice versa.  Take a look at our simple, but helpful overview of these two industries.

Public Relations is…

Earned

Public Relations is also referred to as earned media or earned placement. You don’t pay for the specific placement of content, but there are other costs associated with issuing media relations and content creation that often comes in the form of paying a PR professional to create and disseminate this for you. However, compared to true advertising costs for the same size placement, PR is often a much more cost-effective option.

Viewed as objective

The goal of Public Relations is to garner earned media such as a newspaper article or news segment based upon the information you share in your media advisory or press release. Ultimately, it’s the media outlet producing this content for you, with their byline. As a result, readers or viewers often see this content as more objective (as objective as media can be, right?) than paid advertising which gives it trust and credibility.

Not always in your control

And while free and credible content are both great aspects of Public Relations, it’s important to remember that on the flip side, you are not in full control what’s written about you. Issuing a press release doesn’t mean a reporter will choose to republish every last detail you include. A good PR professional will carefully monitor how the media interprets your story and quickly react if there’s anything inaccurate or undesirable.

Advertising is…

Paid

Most obviously, Advertising costs money. You buy placement when you want it and how you want it. Every media outlet has their own department of sales reps to accommodate this very industry. They are constantly putting together new and enticing ad packages to get businesses to “pay for play.”

Viewed as subjective

Your audience will almost always know that an advertisement is paid placement. In a magazine, articles are marked as “advertisement” or “sponsored content.” On TV, a commercial spot is obviously different from a real news segment. Regardless of how truthful your ad is, your audience will view it with a bit more skepticism because they know you paid for placement and can (generally) say whatever you want.

In your control

Because you pay for specific placement of specific content, Advertising is a lot more controlled than Public Relations. You know exactly when an ad or story will run and what it will look like or say. Although the price of placement can be steep, you fully control your message.

Do you work in either the PR or advertising industry? What other differences would you say are most important?

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2016 in Business & Success

 

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4 Reasons to Keep an Updated Resume – Even When You’re Not Looking for a Job

4 Reasons to Keep an Updated Resume

If you’ve been settled into your current job, even for just a year, it may be time to revisit and update your resume. You might be thinking “Why would I spend my time on that? I enjoy my job and have no plans to leave anytime soon.” Unfortunately, our economy and personal situations are equally hard to predict and either could land you unexpectedly unemployed or with the immediate need to find another job.

By keeping an updated resume, you won’t be overwhelmed by the task of updating it with a decade or more of new work experience, or worse yet, creating a completely new one from scratch. This is a major time savings when time is of the essence!

Simply put, the power of keeping a polished resume throughout your career can be more valuable than you think. Take a look at these 4 reasons to keep an updated resume, even when you’re not looking for a job.

Resumes are used for more than just job hunting

Keep in mind that a resume serves far more purposes that just landing a new job. If you want to apply for an award, toss your hat in the ring to be a guest speaker or be considered for a promotion within your current position, an updated resume may be required. By keeping an updated resume, you’re that much more prepared to jump on these opportunities as they arise.

It helps you see areas that might need strengthening

Could some continuing education or an industry certification help give you more of an edge in your professional field? As you update your resume periodically, you can see areas that may need to be strengthened in order to keep up with your peers. As much as your resume is a snapshot of your past work experience and qualifications, it can also serve as a road map to your future professional goals. If you take the time to review it frequently, you will see the potholes that need a little filling.

You may not be looking for a job, but a job could be looking for you

Headhunters and hiring managers might see your qualifications (like on social media platforms such as Linkedin) and approach you about a job opportunity. By keeping your resume updated, you’ll be able to quickly act on such an offer without hesitation. This is all the more reason to also keep your Linkedin profile updated along with your printed resume. They duplicate essentially the same information, so it’s hardly any additional work, especially considering the potential gain from doing so.

If and when you start a new job search, you’ll be glad you kept up with it

Updating a resume that is twenty years old is far more overwhelming than one that is updated every year. Plus, think about all the details that are sure to get lost over time. Can you recall all of the responsibilities and achievements from your first job from memory? Not likely. If you commit to capturing this information on a yearly basis, your resume will stay up to date and comprehensive of all the amazing things you have accomplished in your career thus far. Best of all, whenever you find yourself in need of a resume, it will be as simple as pulling up the file and glancing over it for a quick review rather than blowing off a pile of dust and trying to recall details of your job from several decades prior. Your future self cannot thank you enough for this!

When’s the last time you took a critical look at your resume? Share whether you do or do not have an updated resume and why by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2016 in Business & Success

 

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