Five lessons I learned from my first job in PR

By Staci

I was extremely fortunate to land my first job in the field of public relations. What started out as an unpaid internship in a small department that never previously hosted an intern turned into a full time job with benefits. Go me! It’s not always that easy. The PR gods were clearly looking out for me.

It turns out that my first job was exactly what I needed. I had an amazing boss who was very interested in making me the best communicator that I could be. She got many things right when dealing with me, but I’ll save the specifics for a different blog post at a later date.

I spent four great years at my first job. Your first job in the field is probably one of the most important jobs you will have in your life. After reflecting on what I learned in that four years’ time, I realized that I learned a lot! The following five things seem to stick with me wherever I go:

(These lessons are in no particular order.)

Lesson 1: Make nice with the food people

Food people make the world go round. Or, I should say that food people make my world go round! Get in good with the executive chef, the general manager and the cashiers and your workdays will be much happier. If you don’t have food services at your place of work, make nice with the workers at your local dining establishments. A little bit of chatter, a whole lot of friendliness and a good tip can go a long way when it comes to scoring free food.

Lesson 2: There are two types of senior professionals – know the type you are dealing with

Young professionals will encounter two types of people when they are just starting out. The first group consists of veterans who are inclusive. They actively seek your input in meetings, they take care to provide you with necessary background information so that you can approach your job more effectively and they are encouraging and supportive. They understand that when you do better, they will do better and when everyone is doing better, the organization does better. Win, win, and win!

The second group consists of veterans who are dismissive. They don’t care for your input or to include you in the decision making process. Your development is not their concern and can sometimes even be seen as threatening. These people like to throw their years of experience around as a way to demean your own experience. Unfortunately, there is little you can do in this situation. Keep your head up, demonstrate your competence and get the job done.

The bottom line is that you should soak up every bit of knowledge you can from the first type of senior professional. Be sure to take notes on how you should not act when you find yourself on the other end of the situation later in your career so that you don’t end up like the second type of senior professional.

Lesson 3: Never write off a media outlet

The first organization I worked for was quite difficult when it came to media relations. It wasn’t that we didn’t have good stories to pitch. We were actually quite active and able to place several stories a month. It was just that the media consistently got the story of the organization wrong due in large part to the history of the industry in the region the organization was operating in. As frustrating as this could be at times, my first boss taught me to never write off a media outlet, no matter its carelessness or vendetta. It was our job as PR professionals to tear down those walls and build those relationships. It took some time, but with a lot of persistence and a little help from staff turnover in newsrooms, our team was able to get journalists to more accurately portray the organization in news coverage. Don’t back down…double down.

Lesson  4: Never accept the status quo

This is perhaps my favorite lesson I learned from my first job in PR. As a PR professional, you are the eyes and ears of the organization, you are the cheerleader and, most importantly, you are the change agent. Think about it – you are imbedded in the organization like a wartime reporter. This allows you to see where the organization is going and better advise senior leaders how to navigate the waters of change to get the organization there. You know the staff, you know the conditions and you know the external publics. This is the environmental scanning function of PR.

Do not become complacent and do not allow your senior leaders to become complacent. EVERYTHING can ALWAYS be better. Good is simply not good enough. Achieve excellence and once you get there, go further. If your organization is not constantly working to improve, it is falling behind.

Lesson 5: Relationships are everything

Relationships truly are everything in this business. Whether it is a pushy and persistent sales person, an incompetent colleague or a less than reliable vendor, the universe has a way of putting these people in your path time after time. Suck it up, Buttercup. Chances are you will run into these very same people after your first job, or you will meet someone who knows them and thinks of them fondly. Heck, you might even need them!

Your reputation will follow you. Make sure it is a good one.

So, there you have it. I learned a lot about myself while in my first job and a lot about the industry. We unfortunately don’t get any do-overs when it comes to our first jobs. First timers should take note and make the most of their experience in these very formidable first years. Your first job can often set the tone for the rest of your career.

What lessons did you learn from your first job in the field? Let us know in the comment section below!

How to write a news release quote that will get published

Set your quotes up for success with this quick tip

By Staci

It is no secret that quotes are among the first elements to be cut by editors and journalists from a news release. This should come as no surprise because most quotes are useless to the release and obviously self-serving. Shame on us!

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If you want to prevent your news release quotes from being thrown in the trash, you have to give journalist something worth publishing.
Photo credit: Cayusa / Foter / CC BY-NC

I can’t promise that this tip will absolutely get your quotes published, but if you abide by it, your chances will greatly increase. In fact, I like to make a little challenge out of the whole affair. How many outlets are going to run my quote in its entirety and how many outlets are going to cite the information shared in the quote and attribute it to the quote giver? I always try to beat my previous record.

The key to getting your quotes published is to make sure that they introduce new information, ideally in the form of facts and figures. News desks appreciate measurable and objective data. Also, don’t be afraid to be bold with your quotes.

The following two examples illustrate how you can use facts and figures to your advantage:

“We closed out the third quarter with orders up 30 percent over the same period last year,” said Mister Boss, CEO of Acme Co. “This continued growth tells me two things: we are meeting and exceeding our customers’ expectations and the local economy is starting to make a comeback.”

“We are honored to be one of only four centers to be selected for this government grant,” said Mister Boss, president of ACME Foundation. “This grant money will provide healthy and nutritious lunches for over 450 at-risk children throughout the summer.”

See what I did there? Can you identify the sound bites that are likely to make their way into a news report? Don’t give all of your best information away in the paragraphs of the news release. Save some of the compelling information for your quotes.

To say this is where the hard work ends would be a lie. You have to properly set up your quote with the lead-in paragraph. You also have to follow-up with a paragraph that builds off of the quote and ties up the information nicely with a big shiny bow.

The bottom line is this – if you want to prevent your news release quotes from being thrown in the trash, you have to give journalist something worth publishing.

This is a rule that consistently works for me. Do you use this approach or employ a different one? Let us know in the comment section below!

How to develop a sentiment map around an issue your organization is facing

This clear and concise visual tool helps senior managers weigh the most pressing perceptions

By Staci

I learned about the concept of message mapping while studying for my bachelor’s degree in public relations. A message map is a wonderful tool used to ensure that an organization is telling a succinct brand message. With a quick glance, you should be able to articulate your company’s playbook based on the flow of core messages and proof points.

Among its many uses, a message map is a great tool to use for media training. An overall message map detailing a macro view of your organization is great to have on hand for media training at all times, but narrowly focusing your message map to address a singular issue can do just the trick when trying to prepare a senior manager for an interview. An issue based message map helps build the bigger picture and makes it easier for the trainee to identify opportunities to bridge responses and get back on message.

But, developing an issue based message map requires a certain level of insight to make sure that you are delivering the right messages. This is where the idea of the sentiment map comes in.

Introducing the sentiment map

communicator's quick tip guide sentiment map

This is an example of a sentiment map. Similar perceptions are grouped together to illustrate the root cause of emerging misperceptions.

The concept of a sentiment map is essentially more like the prelude to a message map. Environmental scanning is an important function of public relations that often gets overlooked. When times get tough with the media (or a key public), it can be difficult to get senior managers to focus on the underlying sentiment and the key perceptions that are emerging from all of the noise. We all love our organizations, often causing our first reaction to be dismissive and defensive in the wake of negative news attention.

Developing a sentiment map can help you refocus the attentions of your senior managers to the REAL issues at hand. Let’s face it – perception IS reality. It may not be the reality of your organization, but it certainly is the reality of your key publics. Addressing those misperceptions is precisely where your work needs to be done.

You can develop your sentiment map from a macro perspective to stay proactive with your environmental scanning and keep it “alive” by updating it periodically to see the change in perceptions over time. You can slice and dice your map by key publics, media outlets or issues. Another way to use the sentiment map is to develop it around a single issue raised in the media, allowing your senior managers to have a snapshot of what is feeding the sentiment towards your organization at that particular time.

Creating a sentiment map is simple. The suggested steps below are specific to a singular-issue based map (similar to the one pictured above), but once you have worked through the exercise, you will see how you can adapt it to better work for your purposes.

Just follow these steps and your map will take shape:

1.  Survey comments

When a negative story takes hold in the media, it is often perpetrated through several outlets. Make sure you are searching for any and all comments made in response to the media coverage. Do not dismiss comments, even if they are made by a regular adversary. Also, do not limit yourself to comments only made on news sites. Make sure you are entering into the social media abyss for any chatter surrounding your organization in relation to the issue.

2.  Group like comments together

This step is completely subjective. You want to start grouping comments together based on the sentiment of the underlying message. Do not be overly aggressive when grouping comments. You want key insights to bubble up to the surface and be able to stand on their own.

3.  Tally the perceptions

Once you have identified your emerging perceptions, start tallying the number of times those perceptions appear in the broad base of comments made around the issue.

4.  Assign perceptions to a bubble size

This is an excellent time to develop a point system to help you determine where perceptions fall within the various bubble sizes. I like to stick with three to four bubble sizes depending on the depth and variety of perceptions. You can choose your point system based on the overall size of your comment pool and the number of perceptions that have emerged.

For example:

  • If a perception appears one to five times, it is assigned to the smallest bubble.
  • If a perception appears six to ten times, it is assigned to the second smallest bubble.
  • If a perception appears eleven to fifteen times, it is assigned to the second largest bubble.
  • If a perception appears 16+ times, it is assigned to the largest bubble.

5.  Plot the bubbles

You are now at a point where you can begin to plot the bubbles, grouping related perceptions together in the same area. The larger picture will begin to take shape. This visual tool helps you see how the lesser held perceptions morph together to create a greater, overall sentiment about your organization.

Using the sentiment map allows you to focus your message to address the largely held misperceptions that are in play. While at the same time, you can work on flipping the smaller misperceptions with a more targeted approach. To take it a step further, take another look at your pool of comments and create a profile for each “person” that feeds into each individual perception. The possibilities that come from the sentiment map are endless. Take this tool and tweak it to work best for you.

In full disclosure, I am not aware of this idea being widely used. I was inspired by the concept of a message map and found the use of a sentiment map to be helpful in organizing our response around an issue that caught fire in the local media. It is safe to say that the results presented on the sentiment map surprised my senior leaders. They had attached a lot of importance (and emotions) to a few misperceptions, but what had actually emerged on the sentiment map was an emphasis on misperceptions that were not even in their field of vision pertaining to the issue. This ended up being a very important exercise for us. If this idea is widely used and there is a common name for it, please let us know in the comment section below!

Do you have a go-to-tool that you like to use to visually communicate information to your CEO?