Name: Tressa Robbins
Bio: A country girl at heart, who loves the city, I’ve worked in marketing/public relations, consultative sales, and media relations for the better part of over 20 years. The skills acquired from these positions come in handy in my present role as Implementation Vice President at BurrellesLuce and in my role as President of the St. Louis chapter of PRSA. This is an exciting time of change in the world of media and public relations, and I hope to initiate conversations that will assist and support public relations professionals in the industry. In my personal time, love the outdoors, boating, fishing, camping and being mom to my three dogs. Twitter: @tressalynne; LinkedIn: TressaLynne; Facebook: BurrellesLuce
Posts by Tressa Robbins:
- First things first, clean-up and refine your online presence—including your social media accounts. Google yourself (be sure to hide personal results by clicking the globe in the upper right)–and don’t forget Bing and Yahoo!. If the first page results do not represent you and who you are, immediately begin digital damage control. (This is even more important if you have a common name or have a dubious doppelgänger out there.) There are free tools to help you keep an eye on your online reputation –personally, I use BrandYourself.
- Read, write, repeat. Reading exercises your brain. Writing is a skill that requires practice. But it’s more than that. Reading improves your vocabulary, makes you a better conversationalist, gives you a broader understanding of language and improves your storytelling skills (a key component of public relations). Sure, industry-related content is important but also read general news and (try to) read for fun as well.
- Volunteer. Get involved with an on-campus pre-professional organization (like PRSSA, AMA or AAF). That doesn’t mean show-up once or twice a month and sit through a guest speaker or meeting. Run for office and/or lead a committee (demonstrates leadership). Head-up a fundraising event, volunteer to be part of a team, work in the student-run PR firm (if there is one). If you have free time, volunteer at a local non-profit organization and offer to help with public relations, marketing, social media, blog content creation, special events. Do something that’s going to give you experience and help sharpen your skills—it all counts!
- Network—virtually and IRL. Seek out and follow industry leaders on Twitter, LinkedIn groups, and blogs so you can learn from the pros; but don’t just lurk—participate! Attend industry events (not just those for students but where there will be pros as well). Research agencies, organizations, companies that you would like to intern with or work for. Develop and practice your elevator speech; you should have a 30-second spiel that is memorable and opens a window to your personality, your passions and your mindset. Not a laundry list of skills, rather what you can offer to a potential employer. Use your smartphone to record yourself so you can play it back and make improvements. Then, reach out to your targets and request an informational interview. If face-to-face isn’t an option, Skype or Google+ Hangouts are good alternatives. Ask what (coursework, degrees, activities, skill sets) they are looking for when hiring. Ask, given identical academic backgrounds, what makes some candidates standout above the rest. Doing this NOW allows you time to make a quick change to a more pertinent elective, audit a course or self-teach additional skills.
- Create an online portfolio if you haven’t already. Gather writing samples from internships, volunteer gigs, blog posts, class assignments. Be sure to include any public relations or marketing plans you’ve created, press releases, anything written in AP Style, newspaper/media clippings, presentations, creative design samples, reference letters, special certifications, etc. (NOTE: If you are including any work that was done as part of a group, be sure to notate this and identify which part you actually did.) PR professionals must view themselves as “brands”—it’s a very competitive industry. Your online portfolio, business cards, blog, resume, etc. should all present one cohesive message.
- Does anxiety, workaholism and/or a sense of over-responsibility get in the way of getting what you want out of your life?
- Do you stay busy to appease your restlessness?
- Are you obsessive compulsive about work and other areas of your life?
- Do you do more than your fair share at home, at work, in volunteer activities?
- Make sure the customer’s voice is present. Be sure your messages, campaigns and programs support what the marketing team is saying/doing. Push your organization’s tolerance.
- This works because consumers are naturally “me” focused. Consistency across all touch points improves the likelihood of being heard.
- Leverage your history and shared cultural experiences (like the Dove soap commercials, for example). Lead with your values. Step aside and let fans tell the stories that matter to them.
- This works because it makes people feel “warm and fuzzy” so they are more likely to listen. People like to share their own stories—you simply provide the platform.
- Show them everything.
- People need to see to believe.
- Move away from corporate spokespeople and toward real people. Credibility doesn’t always equal credentials.
- Letting someone they trust share the story improves believability.
- First, broaden your idea of who should get access. Offer face time with CEO, or take them behind the scenes, or better yet—put them to work. Let them experience it–see it, touch it, feel it. Tyler gave the example here of taking a blogger to the farm where McDonald’s ingredients are grown and having them crack an egg or pick a piece of lettuce.
- Seeing is believing; doing is even better. That’s why this works.
- Make it possible for customers to experience you in a new milieu. Surprise them by doing something unexpected of your brand. For example, last year, McDonald’s held a Top Chef event in New York where they gave top chefs the ingredients used in McDonald’s restaurants and had them create a menu. They invited 100 people to sample the results. People were amazed that these gourmet dishes came from the same ingredients as are found under their local ”golden arches.”
- You can probably see from the example why this works. If you can truly set aside existing perceptions, then you have better odds at engaging in a new dialogue.
- We must adapt and be flexible. Stories need to be told in different ways depending on the medium.
- PR is no longer just accountable for the message—we’re now depended on for choosing the most effective modes and channels.
- Effective public relations outreach does still include traditional media pitching (newspapers, magazines, television, radio) but may also include social media marketing, blogs, content marketing, web development and analytics, graphic design, SEO, and emerging technologies we aren’t even aware of yet.
- Don’t be afraid to partner and/or collaborate as necessary. If you are ill-equipped in a certain area, take advantage of the opportunity to learn and expand your skill set!
- This new media model is dynamic – making it fluid and spontaneous, requiring PR pros to be quick on their feet and adept at managing communities, not just a message.
Mentoring, advising and otherwise helping PR students is a passion of mine. You may know that I’ve previously written about what public relations students should do during their summer break, what PR students can do to build their personal brand, and more. If you are an underclassman, you have the advantage of time; however, if you are entering your senior year, there is no time but the present.
Here is a mash-up of those tips (and some new ones) to help put you on the right path to becoming a new public relations professional.
Human Resources professionals will likely tell you they look at LinkedIn profiles but not a candidate’s Facebook page or other social media, as they are prohibited by law to access any information that could be used in a discriminatory way. However, they will also admit that many hiring managers do vet job candidates through online/social sleuthing. Proof in point: According to the 2013 Jobvite study, 94 percent of recruiters use or plan to use social media in their recruitment efforts.
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” ~Stephen King
What else should students be doing to prepare for their PR career? If you are a student or recent graduate, what have you done (or are doing) that’s helped to progress your career?
Many of us in the communications fields refer to ourselves as being “Type A” or having “Type A” personalities. The term has become a catchphrase for those of us who tend to be high-energy, driven, ambitious, goal-oriented, competitive perfectionists with a sense of urgency in nearly everything we do.
HISTORY: The term “Type A” originated in the 1950s when Drs. Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman observed that those most likely to suffer a cardiac event also tended to have more driven, impatient, high-stress personalities, and the term propagated after their 1974 best-selling book, Type A Behavior And Your Heart, was published.
At the recent PRSA Midwest District Conference, one of the sessions I attended was with Lynn Ingrid Nelson, principal at Lin PR, and author of the book Getting Your Life into Balance. She talked about PR pros often running around with their “hair on fire” due to the urgent nature of our work, and that learning ways to handle this constant state of urgency improves our well-being and our effectiveness. In public relations specifically, our stressors tend to be clients, bosses, continual deadlines, round-the-clock demands, cranky journalists, and constant multitasking. This session was interesting to me as I have been the epitome of “work hard, play hard” most of my adult life, but in recent years found it not working quite so well for me anymore.
Not sure if you need to bring your life into balance? Nelson suggests you begin with asking yourself these questions:
Still not sure? Check out this Huffington Post article, 16 Signs You’re A Little (Or A Lot) Type A.
If you answered yes to many but aren’t sure just WHY you should focus on life balance, Nelson suggests you’ll have more compassion and better understanding of others, more energy for activities (less drudgery), more creativity/play, more intimacy, possibly better health, and more overall satisfaction.
Nelson suggests creating a sort of journal she called an “intentional time diet” where you record how you spend your time now (anyone who’s worked in a PR agency should be familiar with this drill), and then distinguish between discretionary and required time.
She spoke about clarifying your intentions by asking yourself things like: what are your three most important goals, what do you want to do less/more of, and are you willing to make the changes that would be required to meet those goals. Estimate much time are you willing to spend on what. Then, determine what you can do now to shift toward better balance. “Find your own shade of gray,” Nelson challenged.
Through her own struggle, she shared many things she’s learned. A few of the ones that really resonated with me were:
1. Going out of your way for everyone does not lead to good balance.
2. There is little upside to being the most responsible person in the group.
3. “Muscling” through tough situations is less of an option as we age. Intentional is a much better solution.
While I already had some things set in motion to simplify my life and make me more productive and less stressed, this session validated that I’m moving in the right direction.
What are you doing to find your shade of gray?
We all know that storytelling is a key component of public relations. We tell stories to enhance our brand, our client and/or our mission. You know your story is being heard, but is your audience really listening?
McDonald’s USA public relations manager Christina Tyler, APR, spoke last week at the PRSA Midwest District Conference on how to be disruptive to get your points across. She began by showing McDonald’s advertising clips, spanning four decades (that’s 40 years for those who are math-challenged), all saying their burgers are 100% pure beef. This message was loud and clear in the ads; yet, in nearly every focus group, the main question people had was “What’s in the beef?”
Tyler talked about consumers seeing Super Size Me and making (incorrect) assumptions about their ingredients. Or, perhaps they saw a Facebook post that was a hoax, myth or urban legend, but gets passed along by the uninformed as truth. She discussed how stimuli gets interpreted by our beliefs to form “facts” that may not be facts at all. Perception IS reality.
Time to get disruptive! It doesn’t have to be “in your face” or rude, and you shouldn’t feel obliged to engage trolls. What you do need to do is to interrupt the flow of information. Tyler laid out six disruptive tactics McDonald’s has used and why they work:
1. Start on the inside of the organization
2. Play to the heart
4. Change the messenger
5. Provide unexpected access
6. Take yourself out of context
So, ask yourself, is what’s standing in the way of me disrupting the status quo and getting my message across the adherence to doing things the way it has always been done just because that’s the way it’s always been done? If the answer is yes, then get disruptive!
The oldest school of journalism in the United States (and possibly in the world), University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, added its first new major in 50 years when it added Convergence Journalism back in the fall of 2005. Over the past several years, news consumers have witnessed a revolution take place whereby we consume news stories via multiple platforms (traditional, digital, social) and in various formats such as long-form, short-form, textual, auditory, visual, formal/professional reporting, citizen reporting.
I recently attended a convergent media panel event (hosted by PRSA St. Louis) which featured Kelsey Proud with St. Louis Public Radio, Caryn Tomer with Techli.com, and Perry Drake (formerly of NYU) now with UMSL.
Proud started off with showing a perfect example of media convergence in a story they’ve just produced on chronic absenteeism in schools across Missouri. In this series, they utilized audio (radio), research/analytics, data, dynamic visuals and text.
Tomer discussed tailoring the story presentation to what their readers want. The staff likes (pertinent) press releases but may also use video, audio, text, social, linkbacks and even gamification to enhance the user experience.
All seemed to agree on how they decide what content makes it. Of course, it has to matter to their audience but beyond that—it’s all about emotion and reactions.
As the late Maya Angelou said:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
How does this affect PR pitching/media relations efforts?
By now, most savvy PR pros know multimedia storytelling is no longer optional—it’s a necessity.
How do you see multimedia journalism affecting your job?
Hats off to those PR students who recently graduated, and to those who are about to walk—in your commencement ceremony and into the next chapter of your lives!
You are likely now focused on the job search. Many grads will quickly realize that they don’t have what it takes to get that entry-level job. Yes, I know entry-level would seem to indicate just that—no experience required, but in PR (and some other industries as well) things work a bit differently. Most entry-level public relations jobs ask for at least one year of experience. In some cases, they may also ask for additional skills such as graphic design, publication layout, web coding—ones that are historically outside the realm of traditional PR or summer internships. While it can seem frustrating that to get work experience you need work experience, there is a way to get that: the post-graduate internship.
Through various touch points, including being professional adviser to PRSSA-SE over the past few years (and previously PRSA-St. Louis’ PRSSA liaison), I have had occasion to talk with students, graduates, new pros, faculty and hiring professionals. Post-grad internships seem to be a trend so I did a little digging, and to my surprise, found it wasn’t exactly a new trend.
I stumbled upon a post from 2009 on PR Channel’s (now abandoned) blog, which quoted Meg Carosello (nee Fullenkamp), who heads up PR at Captiva Marketing in St. Louis, where she said, even if you’ve graduated without internship experience, it’s not too late.
“First, don’t be afraid to do a post-grad internship. My first internship was after graduation at Opera Theatre of St. Louis. It was for 2 months, not much pay, but I learned so much and got to work with major editors at publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Dallas Morning News and more! This internship gave me valuable experience that made me more attractive to employers. Secondly, don’t be afraid to do more than one post-grad internship. After my time was over at Opera Theatre, I landed a position as an intern in the marketing communications group at Fleishman Hillard. I had applied at FH twice before and didn’t even get an interview. My internship at Opera Theatre made me extremely attractive on paper and I landed the job. While my six months at FH were crazy, it was great having such a large agency on my resume.”
I reached out to Meg to see how she felt about that quote today (and to ask permission to use it). She noted the PR world has changed a lot in the past several years and by adding web and digital marketing skills, she’s not only keeping relevant but it has made her a much better resource for her clients. She said, “By taking chances on something new and continuing to learn something new every day I have found my niche even though it was not necessarily my original plan when I graduated and I am much happier now because of it.”
As if to punctuate the point, I found a recent post by Nicole Bersani, who had plenty of undergrad experience between a couple internships and her work for ImPRessions (Ohio University’s nationally-affiliated student-run firm) but still chose to take another internship after graduation. She did this to get her foot in the door at a globally recognized agency, and successfully leveraged that internship into a full-time job!
Whether you’ve been told you need additional experience, want to check-out a new city (or country), or are simply trying figure out what you want to do, there are plenty of reasons to take a post-grad internship. You should expect to be paid, be committed to the job that you accept, and be willing to work beyond “normal” hours. Be inquisitive. Be open to all opportunities.
Most of all, don’t feel bad if this is what you need to do. The job title doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are moving toward your next goal—which is to find a job that is satisfying.