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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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The Real Service I Provide to My Clients is Reliability

the-real-service-i-provide-to-my-clients-is-reliabilityA question I often receive is what type of services I provide. Well, literally speaking, that’s not a hard question to answer. It’s a blend of communications strategy, content creation, social media, media relations and event planning. But as I tend to do, I have gotten philosophical with my answer. The real service I provide to my clients is nothing more than reliability (okay, and some communications expertise).

Every single one of my clients needs me to be reliable in order for me to be successful with my work. I often deal with busy people who easily get buried under their own workload, so they don’t have the time or energy to micromanage the services I provide them. I prefer it this way. My personality type is built on the foundation of reliability. I can’t not see something through completion, to a fault. But in the case of my business, this has been a big point of success. Here’s why….

Responsiveness

A key part of being reliable is being responsive. During regular work hours (and admittedly, even during non-regular work hours), I give my clients quick responses. Sometimes the response is that I will look into this tomorrow or have the task completed by the end of the week, but it will warrants a response so they know the status of their question. It’s how I would want to be treated and so it’s how I treat my clients.

There’s no reason why I should close my laptop for the day without every email in my inbox receiving a response to the sender that it’s been received and will be handled in a timely manner. Even if I plan to be “out of the office” a day…or five, an auto-responder message accomplishes the same thing. I’ve found that my responsiveness to my clients results in their responsiveness to my invoices.

Consistency

Another big part of being reliable is being consistent. I have clear deliverables for each client that I accomplish for them on a monthly basis (most commonly). They know that if they are expecting a weekly blog and monthly newsletter to be created for them, it will be done just about the same time each and every month. It’s this consistency and reliability that they really pay me for. Often these are busy business owners who would never get to these tasks themselves, which is why they trust them to me.

Proactive Thinking

I strive to answer my clients’ questions before they have to ask them. For example, rather than making them come to me for my thoughts on what should be the topic for this month’s newsletter, I provide several options from which they can choose when I sent over the invoice. This kick starts the planning process and reinforces the value of the service I provide – a key time to do so when also giving them an invoice.

Follow-Up

Finally and most importantly, a lot of my job is follow-up. I’ve venture to say it’s the single thing I do that directly contributes to the success of my business. Some days I feel like all I do is follow-up with people who have fallen off the radar and breathe new life into a project that has gone stale. I’ve gotten pretty creative with the ways I follow-up with clients and leads, so as not to come across desperate or annoyed. By keeping clients engaged, I ensure the success of my work and the likelihood they will continue to contract my services.

Aside from the obvious, what service do you provide to your clients that makes you standout? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Can an Introvert Thrive in a Career in Public Relations?

Introvert

On several occasions, I’ve blogged about being an introvert and how this personality type impacts my personal and professional life in countless ways. Most people who meet me don’t believe I’m an introvert; after all, I’m not shy.

For anyone else who is an introvert, you know that while introverted people can be shy, this isn’t the true definition of the personality type. Rather, it’s where you gain your energy. For introverts, we gain our energy from solitude. We can – and often do – enjoy being around people, but only for so long. Once our energy is drained, we crave the peace and rejuvenation of being in a low key environment.

I like to think of myself as an “outgoing introvert.” When I’m running on a full tank of energy, I shine in the social spotlight. Then, like the flip of a switch, I’m ready to retreat and recharge. Choosing a career in public relations may seem like a poor choice for my personality type, but quite the contrary. I’ve found it to be a great fit for several reasons.

If you can relate to being an “outgoing introvert” with a passion for communicating with others, the good news is that you can absolutely thrive in a career field like public relations. However, there are several key things you must be willing to do. Take a look!

Step outside your comfort zone

It’s important to keep in mind that being an introvert is a characteristic and not an excuse. Sure, I’m an introvert, but I know I still have to push myself outside my comfort zone to serve my clients. That may mean video conferencing, making cold calls, emceeing an event or stepping in front of the television camera. The truth is, I don’t necessarily like doing all of those things, but I will do them because it’s part of my job.

Design a workspace that works for you

I work from home where I have a calm and quiet work space with very limited distractions. I can fully immerse myself in the task at hand without being interrupted by phone calls, a chatty coworker or impromptu team meetings. This is how introverts function best. We can become deeply focused, and therefore extremely efficient with our time. We also get to reserve our energy for work without having it drained by small talk and frequent interruptions.

Schedule commitments well in advance

In public relations, it’s necessary to attend client events, networking functions and educational opportunities to stay top of mind and on top of trends. As an introvert, there’s nothing I hate more than having a commitment sprung on me at the last minute. I often have my days planned out and if socializing wasn’t part of the plan, I likely won’t have the energy or right frame of mind to enjoy the event. I make every effort to schedule conference calls, meetings and events at least several weeks in advance so I don’t overload my schedule and so that I allow myself downtime every day.

Protect your personal time

Finally, I protect my personal time like it’s a commitment on my calendar, even if it’s just allowing myself time to read, write and maybe even nap. This downtime is what allows me to work efficiently the rest of the day, knocking of tasks far quicker than I would if I let myself burnout without a break. If someone wants to spring an impromptu meeting or phone call on me during this personal time, I make every effort to push it to another time that I have available for such tasks. Even the most hectic of days are far more manageable when I know I have an hour of personal time to regroup, refocus and reenergize.

Can you relate to being an introvert and working in an “outgoing” career field? How do you set yourself up for success so that you don’t burnout each day?

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2016 in Business & Success, Life

 

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How Public Relations is Different than Marketing

how-public-relations-is-different-than-marketing

If you use public relations tactics and hope to get results that really only marketing can produce, you’re going to be frustrated and likely begin to doubt the effectiveness of using PR to grow your business. The same is true if you mistakenly use marketing tactics and hope to get results that are more PR-related.

So what do you need to know? Let’s cut to the chase and set the record straight on the biggest and most important differences between public relations and marketing. This is not to say there won’t be exceptions to the rule. There always are. But for the sake of drawing a clear line, take these statements with a grain of salt.

Marketing is proactive. Public relations is reactive.

Marketing is almost always planned and purchased well in advance. Whether that’s a direct mail piece or promotional materials. When needed, public relations can be reactive in an effort to solve a problem, address a concern or announce something newsworthy. As a PR professional, I would certainly advocate to not make your PR efforts solely reactive. That’s as silly as it is dangerous. Public relations can and should be both proactive and reactive; however, marketing is rarely if ever reactive.

Marketing is business. Public relations is communications.

Here me out on this one. At Penn State (and likely at many other colleges across the world), my major of public relations was housed in the College of Communications, along with other majors like advertising and journalism. Marketing, however, was in the College of Business. This may seem trivial, but really it can help you understand just how closely marketing is linked to business and public relations is linked to communications. From the time someone begins to formally study one of these industries, they are placed on one of two very different paths.

Marketing changes your bottom line. Public relations changes public perception.

If you want to know if you marketing tactics are working, look at your bottom line. How have they impacted sales? On the other hand, quantifying your public relations efforts isn’t so straightforward. A good PR strategy will help to positively change the public’s perception of your brand. This can be tracked in various ways including focus groups and customer surveys, but the data tends to be harder and more expensive to obtain than simply pulling last quarter’s sales numbers.

Marketing is focused on sales. Public relations is focused on relationships.

If you remember nothing else, remember that marketing is growing sales and public relations is growing relationships. By growing relationships, this often leads to greater sales – which is why marketing and PR work well to support one another – but this is not the main focus. This understanding is critical because all too often I run into clients who are disappointed that PR isn’t producing higher sales, when that’s not its number one objective! If your focus is sales, look to marketing and if your focus is increasing good will with your customers, look to PR. Both will work together to grow your brand, but in their own unique way.

Still struggling to differentiate when to use Public Relations and when to use Marketing to grow your business and brand? Ask a question and let us help you answer it!

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2016 in Business & Success

 

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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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3 Qualities of a Great Photograph

Photography, just like any other form of art, is subjective. Individually, we each have our own preferences which can be seen in the type of photographs we take as well as the art we choose to hang on the walls in our homes.

So how can you select an image to represent your business or brand that will appeal to the majority of your target audience?

Speaking from a public relations and marketing perspective, there are three common qualities that make up a great photograph that you should keep in mind when selecting the images you use to grow your brand. Take a look!

Lighting Quality

Lighting is critical to taking a great photograph. When possible, opt for natural lighting to create a soft ambiance. Flash photography can also produce some stand out images when used correctly. After all, photography literally means “painting with light,” so learning to master your lighting is key to producing a great photograph.

For this photo, lighting is part of the object itself, making for a unique shot!

For this photo, lighting is part of the object itself, making for a unique shot!

Composition and Attention to Detail

The best photographs have an element of visual balance. Guidelines like “the rule of thirds” are helpful for knowing how to spot an image with great visual balance. Why does composition matter so much? Because it helps to create an image that is stimulating and captivating. When seeing such an image, your audience will spend more time looking at it which means a greater opportunity for them to connect with your brand. Once you know “the rules,” you can also choose to strategically break them to capture an photo that is different from what we’re used to seeing, thus making it more memorable.

This photo follows the "rules of thirds" which results in a great visual balance.

This photo follows the “rules of thirds” which results in a great visual balance.

Your Subject Makes a Statement

Finally, a great photograph does more than just capturing the image of an object or scene; it makes a statement. Some of the simplest photographs, when shot creatively, tell a story far more fascinating than a lesser-quality photograph of something far flashier. It’s really not so much what you’re photographing as it is how you photograph it. Dare to look at something from a new angle, position it in a unique way and make it something someone wants to know more about!

An image like this is great for sparking interest and getting readers to want to know more about what it represents.

An image like this is great for sparking interest and getting readers to want to know more about what it represents.

Are you a beginner to intermediate photographer? Did you find these tips helpful? Please let us know by adding a comment below!

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2016 in Photography

 

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5 Reasons Why Your Content is Turning Away Readers

5 Reasons Why Your Content is Turning Away Readers

Have you experienced this scenario? You write an article on a topic that should be exiting and relevant to your readers, but it doesn’t get the interactions you thought it would. The number of views are disappointing, there are little to no shares on social media and not a single person felt compelled enough to leave a comment.

The good (and the bad) news is that you are not alone. Especially if you are just beginning to grow your blog or e-newsletter, it can take time to build a loyal readership. However, this doesn’t give you a green light to sit back and wait for the fans to come to you. Part of the problem could be the quality of your content or how it is presented. Take a look at these 5 common problems and how to correct them to create better content.

The Title is Lame

The first thing that catches a reader’s eye, besides a great image, is the title. A great title should be two things: interesting and accurate. In the fewest words possible, you need to communicate just enough information to make someone want to read more. But be careful not to bait your readers with dramatic claims or questions that sound like something out of a tabloid. You’ll know your title isn’t doing its job if people aren’t clicking on the full article to read more or deleting the email before opening it.

Your Introduction Doesn’t Build Excitement

Let’s say you made it past the first hurdle of getting people to actually click on your blog or article to read more. You still have to prove to them that it’s worth their time to read from start to finish – and that opportunity comes in the first paragraph. Be sure to write an introduction that builds excitement and relevance. Preview the valuable information that is to come without giving away all the details.

You Lack Sub Headings to Organize the Content

Another tip for creating quality content that keeps people interested from start to finish is to use sub headings to organize your main points and make it easy for readers to digest the content in bite-size morsels.

It’s Way Too Long

Thanks to technology, we as a society feel like we always need to be multitasking. This means rarely do we give anything our full attention or more than a few minutes of our time before moving on to the next shiny object. Keep your content direct and to the point. When a reader sees he has to click through 22 slides of content or scroll down a never-ending page of words will quickly lose interest and move on to something that requires less of a time commitment.

It’s Not Mobile Friendly

Finally, you may be lacking readership because your content is not accessible where people view it most often – on their mobile device. Emails, blogs and websites should all be mobile friendly. There’s a big difference between reading an article that is formatted to fit on your phone’s screen and reading one that is not. Remember, you want to make it easy and convenient for your readers to stay and consume your content through the end. Remove every hurdle that you can!

Which one of these reasons makes you lose interest in reading an article or blog? Or is there another reason you’d like to share? Leave us a comment!

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2016 in Business & Success

 

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