Sarah Fraser

How to Be Heard When There Are More PR Pros Than Journalists

Reporters and editors are being laid off, publications are closing, and journalists are crossing over into PR. That’s the world we live in today.

It’s been reported that PR professionals currently outnumber journalists four to one, a gap twice as wide as it was in 1980. With this enormous gap between PR pros and journalists, it’s even harder for PR pros to get the story out.

That said, even though there are fewer and fewer journalists, there are still ways to ensure your story gets out there.

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Sarah Fraser

My Journey to Sterling

Unlike my coworkers, I didn’t gracefully land into PR. Instead, I stumbled and landed (on my face) into the world of public relations.

sex-and-the-city-kim-cattrallAfter deciding that law school wasn’t for me, a friend suggested that public relations might be an industry that would make me happy. The only thing I knew about the industry was what I learned on Sex and the City (á la Samantha Jones) and thought that her life rocked, so why not give it a try. I had two things working for me in entering a new field: I was (1)willing to work for free and (2)put in long hours.

Six months later, I landed an entry-level position at a glitzy agency. It was fast-paced, aggressive, and in a fancy location, but I felt like a tiny cog in a very big wheel.

I was lucky to find Sterling, an integrated communications firm. What drew me in was Sterling’s commitment to its employees. There are ample opportunities to expand upon your skill set. Sterling empowers its employees and allows them to take ownership of their career trajectory. I’m excited to join the team and add to Sterling’s value!

Sarah Fraser can be reached at sfraser@sterlingpr.comFollow Sarah on Twitter @sarahafraser.

Amanda

Happy Birthday, Twitter! 7 Ways Twitter Has Changed PR…

TweetYesterday marked the 7th anniversary of the first tweet. For a service that was initially met with much skepticism (why does the world care that I’m eating a sandwich?), Twitter has steadily become a necessary PR tool, taking its place alongside (or in some industries, ahead of) the traditional press release. In honor of Twitter’s 7th anniversary, we have compiled 7 ways Twitter has changed the PR industry as we know it.

  1. Information dissemination. Perhaps the most tangible use of Twitter today is the ability to quickly distribute news to a mass audience. Twitter moves fast, and its users are constantly checking to see what’s happening now. The downside is that it’s easy to miss the opportunity if you don’t jump in quickly, and in some industries or organizations, a lengthy approval process can translate to missed opportunities for the organization. The solution? Sit down with executives, legal, investor relations, and anyone else who may be skeptical of the process and come up with a list of best practices and approved topics.
  2. Scandal. No doubt about it, Twitter can be a double-edged sword for PR pros. While the ability to quickly distribute news and opinions makes for more timely and relevant opportunities for a brand, it can also spell disaster when tweets are not thought through carefully before posting. Just a quick search in our own blog archives shows numerous instances where a Twitter faux pas has been the cause of a major cleanup job for a brand’s PR team (none of our clients, of course!).
  3. Engagement. PR used to primarily serve as a one-way communication function — and often a third party function at that. The traditional chain of command was brand –> journalist –> target audience. With Twitter, conversations look more like brand <–> target audience.
  4. Media relations. In addition to serving as a great channel for connecting brands to their audiences, Twitter has also become a great way for journalists and PR pros to converse, giving journalists story ideas and real-time feedback on their articles, in addition to discussing industry news in general.
  5. Humanization of brands. Whether a large enterprise, your neighborhood coffee shop or a celebrity, Twitter has enabled consumers to feel personally connected to people and organizations they wouldn’t have such close contact with otherwise. This human touch can go a long way in terms of making consumers feel more connected to a brand, knowing there’s a real human on the other side of the computer screen.
  6. Customer service. In the same vein that Twitter has humanized brands, it has also provided a valuable customer service channel. While some brands may shy away from having their dirty laundry aired for all to see in the way of customer complaints, how a brand chooses to address these issues can go a long way in shaping public perception. A brand that’s responsive – even if it’s just to say “email me at ___ and we can discuss this further” – looks more in-tune with the customer than a brand who turns a blind eye to customer complaints. Remember, conversations are happening about your brand, whether you’re a part of them or not.
  7. Viral tactics. How did things go viral before Twitter? Or was this term even a part of our lexicon before then? Whichever the case, there’s no denying that Twitter has been essential in viral marketing campaigns. The very nature of the retweet makes sharing as easy as one click, enabling links, videos and articles to spread like wildfire across a large audience.

So there you have it. 7 ways in which Twitter has changed PR as we know it. Did I leave anything off? Fellow PR pros – how has Twitter changed how you work?

Amanda Hoffman can be reached at ahoffman@sterlingpr.com. Follow her on Twitter @hoffmandy.

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Admin

A Natural Progression

multi-task-blog-artWorking three part-time jobs while attending college and participating in a Division I women’s rowing team is not necessarily living “the dream.” I worked remotely in public relations for two separate companies, while also working in catering at school. One might think, “Wow, this girl must really need the money.” But the truth is, I got paid “didly.” I worked because I enjoyed doing what I was doing, and I didn’t want to have to give up one activity for another. Through my unusual college experience, I learned that you can do everything you love all at once, as long your time is well spent and well managed.

After interning in the public relations field for three different companies for nearly three years, I felt it was time to move forward and jumpstart my career as a full-time PR professional. After graduating from Gonzaga University, I knew I wanted to move out of Spokane and return to my native city by the bay, San Francisco. Amongst other things (like finding my heart where I had left it four years ago), I was eager to earn a position in a public relations agency and begin my growth in becoming the PR pro I know I am destined to become. The only obstacle in front of me was finding that perfect job.

Finding a public relations job in San Francisco was like aggressively trying to find a boyfriend. Note: I used the word “aggressively,” not “desperately.” Countless options, but too few one would actually consider committing to. I knew I wanted to work for a company that allowed me to grow as a professional and individual. I wanted to work in an environment that is challenging, endearing and rewarding.

For me, that company is Sterling Communications. Besides checking off every item on my list of qualities I would expect in an agency, Sterling added to it. I know I will constantly be challenged while working at Sterling, whether it’s expanding on existing skill sets or developing new ones. Public relations is more than just media relations and writing — it’s storytelling. This is what I find Sterling to be doing differently and better than most other agencies. Sterling introduces non-traditional practices of communications, such as video production and web development. I am excited to begin working with Sterling and doing what I love to do: connecting with people and sharing their stories.

Now, to me, that is time well spent.

Natalie Wolfrom can be reached at nwolfrom@sterlingpr.com. Follow her on Twitter @nwolfrom415.

Amanda

2013 Predictions

Hooper, Patel and Dyor at the WTIA Predictions event.

Last week, the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA), a Sterling client, hosted their annual “Predictions” event – bringing together some of the brightest minds in the Seattle tech industry to get their take on what trends and events defined the previous year — and what will be big in the coming year. This year’s panel was unique as it looked at the tech industry from a VC perspective, as all panelists came from various stages in the investment process.

From the traditional VC perspective was Steve Hooper, founding partner at Ignition. Matt Dyor, managing director of the Microsoft Accelerator, spoke from the incubator perspective; and Sujal Patel, former president at Isilon, shared his viewpoint as an angel investor. The panel was moderated by Enrique Godreau III, managing director at GSharp Ventures.

When asked what was one of the most important qualities of a company seeking funding, all agreed that the willingness to listen was important. According to Hooper, “If they can’t listen, they can’t take advice.”

When Godreau asked the panel their opinion as to what trends were on their way out, Dyor was quick to note that zero revenue models are waning. Companies and investors now are interested in monetizing from the start. Patel said that VCs have already funded too many cloud companies, and Godreau noted that that consumer Internet entertainment is overcrowded.

Panelists were next asked what scares them, and most agreed that losing our entrepreneurial spirit would be the demise of innovation. According to Hooper, certain government regulations could threaten an environment that fosters entrepreneurialism. Patel noted that China and India are poised to step in and fill America’s entrepreneurial shoes, should the U.S. lose its entrepreneurial drive. On a related but more local scale, Dyor cited the talent flight to Silicon Valley, should entrepreneurship wane in the Pacific Northwest. Godreau cited an entirely unrelated fear and a valid question: “who owns my ‘data exhaust?’”

When asked which industry is next to be transformed by technology, Dyor answered with “my inbox.” Patel referred back to “data exhaust,” noting that big opportunities await for those who find a way to analyze it and turn into action. Hooper hoped we would continue to evolve phones, citing technologies such as RFID and calling us a “click and done society.” Godreau believed the next revolution was lurking in the education industry, which stands to impede the next generation of entrepreneurs if standards don’t improve.

Next, Godreau asked the panelists what they were surprised hasn’t been fixed yet. Both Hooper and Patel referred to phones again, with Hooper lamenting why in this day and age, we still find dropped calls normal and acceptable. Patel commented on how ridiculous it was that email is still so limited on your smartphone. Godreau laughed at the fact that three way conference calls are still so difficult!

When asked whether there is a social media bubble, both Dyor and Godreau agreed that the next step is finding value. According to Godreau we’ve delivered entertainment, now how to we deliver value?

In closing, Hooper noted that there’s a lot of money to be raised, even in bad times. If it’s a great idea, great ideas get funded.

Patel added that there are so many misunderstood ideas, where no one believes in a product but the founder.

Misunderstood ideas? Sounds like clear messaging and a good communications strategy may be the answer, if you ask me!

Amanda Hoffman can be reached at ahoffman@sterlingpr.com. Follow her on Twitter @hoffmandy.

Image via GeekWire.com.

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Admin

How Sorority Life Prepared Me for PR

CrestHaha, super funny. Now that you’ve got those underwear-around-the-ankles jokes out of the way, can we move on?

Great.

It never occurred to me how much being in a sorority actually prepared me for a career in public relations until we did an  internal professional development session around new-business pitches. I found that I already had a bunch of the skills and important knowledge under my belt because it was kind of like recruitment. Where did I learn it all? Alpha Gamma Delta.

The point of recruitment in sororities  is just that: Recruit women you think will be assets to the chapter who share the values of the organization. It is a mutual selection process; you pick them as much as they pick you.

You follow a similar process in a new-business pitch. Yes, you are there to try to win the client, but it’s also just as important that those clients are compatible with your agency. In order to have a successful team (or sisterhood), you have to get along with each other and share similar ethics. Recruitment taught me the questions that help identify who someone really is, which helps quickly find people that will mesh well with existing teams.

The second lesson recruitment taught me is to never badmouth (or even mention, for that matter) the competition. The time each potential new member spends with the chapter is precious. Don’t waste the time by talking about other houses, thereby basically doing free advertising for them. And in the same vein never speak badly of another chapter. It’s not classy, doesn’t represent the chapter well and they may question whether people in the chapter would speak of them in such a way. Translating this to a new business pitch: Don’t do free advertising for your competition by mentioning them and don’t speak badly of past clients because the company you are pitching may very well become a former client. Who’s going to sign with an agency that may go around talking smack about them?

The third thing recruitment taught me was how to be comfortable introducing myself to complete strangers and striking up a conversation with them. During recruitment you can meet 30 women or more in a single night and with a tight schedule there’s no time for “ums” and “uhs.” You have five minutes to learn as much about the women in front of you as possible and make a positive impression. You can’t afford to waste a single second of that time being shy or introverted; even if you don’t feel it, you have to exude confidence. Plus, people like and are attracted to confidence. This skill easily lends itself to a new business pitch. You get one shot in that room to impress potential clients, not only with your ideas, but also with your team. Don’t blow your opportunity by being too shy to seize it!

So you’ve won the business or the potential new member. Now what? After recruitment, new members get to spend a couple of Squirrelmonths being in the chapter before they decide whether they’d like to initiate, almost like a trial period. You need to check in with the new member often to make sure she feels like she is integrating and becoming a part of the chapter. This is where the Bis Sisters come into play. Each new member gets a Big Sister, who is the day-to-day contact for the new member, much like an account supervisor is for an account. It is your job as a “big” to find out how your “little’s” experience is going. Is she feeling anxious or unsure if she fits? It’s your job to assure her that she was selected (or selected you) for a reason. You manage client expectations and relationships in a similar way.

That segues perfectly to the next skills I learned: relationship building and team work. When you’re in a group of 130-plus women, there’s bound to be a lot of diversity, even in a group that shares similar values. You have to learn not only how to get along with them but also work in teams with people from completely different backgrounds. It will make your time with the chapter super awkward if you can’t learn to get along with everyone. I may not have been best friends with everyone, but I knew enough about each and every one of my sisters to say something nice and meaningful about them. Throughout your career in public relations, you are going to meet a lot of different people. Having the skills to adapt to any kind of working style and even *gasp* knowing the background of different cultures will serve you well in building and maintaining client relationships.

Then there’s the obvious dressing for the part. I’d like to thank Alpha Gamma Delta for having biweekly formal meetings. It’s where 75 percent of my business atire came from. It made it super easy to dress for interviews and then for work because I knew exactly what business casual is. Of course an internship doesn’t hurt for that either but it’s just not as fun.

I consider my time in Alpha Gamma Delta to be extremely valuable; it was an incredibly fun and rewarding way to learn some important life skills while making friends and connections that will last a lifetime. I hope you learned some tips to bring in with you to your next pitch.

Oh, and please remember to smile, ladies!

Monika Hathaway can be reached at mhathaway@sterlingpr.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jazzpatron

Amanda

2012′s Most Notorious Events

Happy New Year! As we head into what will inevitably be an exciting 2013, it’s interesting to sit back and reflect on some of the most notorious events of 2012 that caught our attention, and the lessons we’ve learned from each…

In January, just in time for Martin Luther King Day, many visitors to the new MLK monument in Washington, D.C. were taken aback by a misquote of the late Dr. King etched into the new monument. Thanks to the actions taken by the public, including poet Maya Angelou, the quote was eventually changed. Lesson: whether a misquote is printed in a magazine, written online or literally etched in stone, it’s important to speak up and make sure what’s being written is both correct and taken in the desired context.

February brought us the Super Bowl, and of course, Super Bowl commercials. Last year more than ever, companies not only shelled out big money for a 30-second spot on game day, but many ran ads and posted online videos in advance, essentially creating advertisements to advertise their advertisements! While many companies undoubtedly did this in order to supplement their pricey ad spots with cheaper or free additional exposure, ultimately the ads that garnered the most buzz were those who didn’t unveil their spots until the big day. Lesson: Timing is everything, and reaching the right audience at the right time is often more effective than sheer number of impressions.

In March, a Goldman-Sachs employee posted a scathing farewell to the company in the New York Times, igniting a media firestorm that ultimately cost the company a lot of money, as their stock price dropped 3.4 percent after the incident. Lesson: A PR disaster of great enough magnitude can have immediate monetary consequences.

In April, we discussed the Trayvon Martin shooting case, and how two brands – Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea – found themselves tied to the case through no effort of their own. While the association was positive (sales of the two brands increased due to people buying the products to show support for Martin), both companies chose to keep a safe distance, and released nothing more than a statement expressing their sympathy for the Martin family. Lesson: Don’t take credit where you haven’t earned it; we’ve certainly seen the pendulum swing the other way when brands find themselves negatively affected by an event.

We discussed the growing second screen trend in May, when ABC partnered with Yahoo!’s “Into Now” smartphone and tablet application to reach a large audience on ABC’s hit show, “Revenge.” Other popular shows like “Glee” and “America’s Got Talent” soon followed suit by encouraging viewers to use special hashtags while viewing. The verdict is still out as to how effective these specific tactics are, but it’s safe to say that innovative ideas like this are headed in the right direction, given the growing tablet usage and second screen trend. Lesson: Go where your audience is.

In June, we blogged about Facebook’s lack of courtesy for its users, when they made the decision to hide users’ email addresses in favor of displaying their own “facebook.com” email address. This is yet another example of the social media giant changing settings without regard to what its users want, in favor of what’s best for the company and its bottom line. Lesson: While Facebook may be able to do what it pleases with its users now, due to a growing dependence on the social network, they should tread carefully, lest they end up like Netflix, who fell from grace, thanks to poor customer service and increased competitive offerings.

July brought us tragedy when a gunman opened fire in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, killing more than a dozen people. July also brought us two notoriously ill-timed tweets, first when the NRA took to Twitter the morning after the shooting with “Good morning, shooters. Happy Friday! Weekend plans?” CelebBoutique.com also posted an inappropriate Tweet, speculating that #Aurora was trending due to a dress worn by Kim Kardashian. Understandably, the backlash against both tweets was brutal. Lesson: when you’re a polarizing organization such as the NRA, perhaps scheduled tweets aren’t the best idea. Also, it’s a good idea to figure out why a topic is trending before jumping into the conversation.

Few events can inspire as much social media buzz as the Olympics, and the London games in August were no exception. From the bizarre rants by U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte to the downright racist comments made by Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou, there were enough media gaffes to make any PR person sweat, just reading about them. Lesson: An athlete does not a spokesperson make, and anyone thrust into the public eye could benefit from some basic media training.

September led us into the thick of election season, and Sterling’s own Dave Gifford traveled to Charlotte, NC for some contracting work with the Democratic National Convention. Three days before the event, some unexpected weather forced the DNC to change venues, throwing a wrench in what was already quite the logistical undertaking. Thanks to quick planning by Dave and his nimble team of volunteers, the venue was changed with minimal inconvenience to attendees. Lesson: It’s not always about having a B or C plan; sometimes pulling off a successful event requires the willingness to shift gears quickly should the unexpected occur.

In October, Nike found itself in a pickle when compelling evidence against celebrity spokesperson Lance Armstrong was found by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. In the end, Nike made the decision to let Armstrong go. While Nike has been known to stand by spokespeople plagued by personal scandal such as Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant, this time was different in that Armstrong’s transgressions took place on the “playing field” – something Nike takes seriously. Lesson: Stay true to your brand and mission, and have a good crisis communications plan in place.

In November, a snarky and entertaining restaurant review in the New York Times went viral. In the review, award-winning restaurant critic Pete Wells thoroughly flamed Food Network celebrity chef Guy Fieri. Not surprisingly, this scathing review sent Fieri’s PR team into crisis mode, with Fieri himself appearing on the Today Show to assert that Wells had a personal agenda when writing the review. Fieri’s response took the lead in any follow-up coverage and in the end helped douse the flames on the poor review. Lesson: A well-delivered and timely response can help negate bad publicity.

We discussed Redbox’s entrance into the streaming market in December, and speculated how the move would affect an already ailing Netflix. Ever since Netflix alienated their customers in 2011 by poorly communicating a pricing change, the company has been headed downhill, both in terms of stock price and public reputation. Lesson: while it still remains to be seen who will come out the streaming king, it’s clear that treating your customers poorly only diminishes brand loyalty and gives them a reason to switch to your competitor.

What do you think of the lessons learned in 2012? Will 2013 bring us more savvy crisis communications? What new and creative tactics and technologies  will companies employ to reach their target audiences? Will we see more polished tweets and media soundbites, or are brands and spokespeople destined to make the same mistakes as those who have floundered before them?

Amanda Hoffman can be reached at ahoffman@sterlingpr.com. Follow her on Twitter @hoffmandy.

Image via dreamstime.com.

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Working smarter for the New Year

As 2013 approaches, many of us find ourselves resolving to do things that better our lives – exercise regularly; eat only locally grown and seasonal veggies; get outdoors more; find our inner Zen – and of course, the age-old improve professional development.

In line with this last resolution, the phrase, “work smarter, not harder” comes to mind. As New Relic’s blog post on this subject states, “Bragging that you’ve worked a 16-hour day doesn’t actually increase your bottom line. Success comes from being smart about how you work, which doesn’t necessarily mean you have to forego sleep and family to be successful.”

So I started thinking (and digging up some research) on some tips of how one can do this. This is especially relevant at this moment in time as I’m jamming on some major client work with some hard deadlines amidst the holiday season (whomever said that things are supposed to slow down during the holidays obviously doesn’t work here at Sterling). Here’s some stuff I’ve learned (some of it, admittedly, the hard way):

Organize yourself – there are tons of tools out there that help keep you on track and prevent your hair from catching on fire. My latest project-management addiction? Asana (big shout-out to our creative director, Kawika Holbrook, for introducing me to this one). It’s a task management application that’s intuitive, easy-to-learn, and best of all, for up to 30 people per workspace, it’s free (note: not a client of Sterling’s – we just happen to really like the application).

Communicate – Be open with your communication with your clients, colleagues, team leads, and yourself. Be clear with your clients about what exactly you’re going to deliver, and manage their expectations. It’s nice to offer them the moon, but not-so-nice when you can’t realistically deliver it. Make sure people know your bandwidth and workloads so that they don’t end up expecting more than you can give them. Playing superhero sometimes backfires when you aren’t able to fulfill what you said you’d do.

Ask for help, ask for help, ask for help – I can’t stress this enough. We want to do the best work for our clients, and in a deadline-driven industry, sometimes half the battle rests in doing stuff ON TIME. Pull in resources when and where you can. It doesn’t make sense for you to be working 60 hours a week, when you can delegate to those around you who have the time and the talent to do the work too.

Understand your limitations – Setting high and lofty goals = good. Setting unattainable goals = bad. Know the difference. And learn when to say no. You may want to be the “yes” (wo)man, but this can lead to over-scheduling and under-delivering.

Learn to prioritize – Figuring out what takes precedent helps you manage your schedule better. This all circles back to communication. As I juggle many projects for many clients, I’m juggling deadlines, expectations, and internal teams. This means I need to figure out what my top priorities are and what can wait so I can make sure I’m delivering the best work possible within the timeframe necessary.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for ways you can start incorporating smarter working into your professional lives. For an even more extensive list of tips, check out Colleen Debaise’s “Ask Entrepreneur” blog.

Jennifer Kincaid can be reached at jkincaid@sterlingpr.com. Follow her on Twitter @jennlkincaid.

Photo credits: Say Be And…; AAFP