PR: How to hire a great rep (and why it matters) - PART I

Whether you’re an artist, small business, non-profit or anything in between, a good PR rep, is an integral part of boosting your brand and bottom line, whatever that bottom line means for you. Considering hiring someone but not sure what qualities or skills to look for?

how-to-hire-pr-rep

Public relations roles might go by different titles such as community relations, communications specialist, media relations, publicist, PR rep or a host of others, and specific job descriptions may vary, but the common thread that runs through all of them is found in their primary function: to represent you, to share your message (product, service, art) with your intended audience and otherwise build positive brand awareness that ultimately help meet your business goals (aka: the "why").

As a former journalist (10 years) I worked with many PR reps, from grass roots interns to big agency pros. Regardless of agency type or size, there are a few key skills and qualities that all good PR pros must posess.

In this three part series we will cover

 

Hard skills √

Character and qualities√

Day to day duties√

Part 1: The Skills

They must be media savvy

The most fundamental, non-negotiable “must” for any PR rep is that they posess a solid understanding of how media works. It really helps if they’ve worked in media before moving to PR.

There are two fundamental reasons why this is important:

Reporter on deadline. It really feels like that. And looks like that.

Reporter on deadline. It really feels like that. And looks like that.

  1. Media lives and dies by one word: Deadline. Reporters (producers, writers, etc.) are always racing against the clock and your rep needs to know this and be as ready as possible to meet media requests in order to make a story happen because the opporunity may not come around again. I can’t emphasize strongly enough how important this is. They need to “get it” from day one.

2. Part two of being media savvy means understanding the fundamental dynamic of the media/PR relationship which is that media makes the rules, not PR. Media and PR need each other, but ultimately, media calls the final shot. A PR rep needs to know this and learn to work well with media as a teammate, not a competitor.

(Side note: I’ve read pieces that say the opposite; that a good publicist absolutely will guarantee and deliver coverage, but I disagree. Good PR can and should garner good coverage. It can and should influence and persuade. But I respctfuly disagree with the idea that PR calls the shots as to what ultimately ends up in print or screen. That’s why relationships are so important; good PR builds positive, mutually beneficial ones which can lead to more and better coverage. But it doesn’t change the fundamental dynamic of the media/PR relationship.)

They must be available

That means they know that a reporter can call at any time and they need to be ready to answer questions and otherwise do what it takes to make a story happen. They shouldn’t return media phone calls five days later saying, “Sorry, I wasn’t in the office. Is it too late do do the story?” Then where were they and what what were they doing? Hopefully something that will bring in even bigger and better coverage than the chance they passed up by not being available when the opportunity presented itself.

They must coach you

You must allow them to coach you on Media Relations 101 and you must give them carte blanche to pull you out of meetings, lunches or the gym, or to call you at 10:30 p.m. if that’s when the reporter is calling. Even if you have the best rep in the world but you play hard to get or think you’re too important or busy to drop what you’re doing to talk to a reporter, then you can’t be that serious about wanting coverage. If your rep regularly has to tell reporters, “Sorry s/he’s in a meeting for the next two hours, can we call you back?” because you get all uppity if you’re interrupted,      you’ve failed. You’re paying them to interrupt you, capice?

They must be social media savvy

In 2017 this is essential, not optional. It’s not enough to tweet once or twice and give yourself a gold social media star. It’s better to have no presence at all than to have your audience visit your Twitter feed and see two tweets from 2010, especially if one one of them says, "just joined this Twitter thing. Not sure how it works." Minimally, your rep needs to know how to work Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, if not other major social networks. They need to have a presence and be somewhat active on their own accounts too, and it helps if they actually have a passion for social media. For you, they need to strategize, create and manage your online presence and post consistently. What they don't need is a college degree to do it. #justsaying

BONUS FAIL ON YOUR PART: Are any of these your profile photos?

egghead-montage.jpg

Yeah, you need to hire someone asap. Keep reading. 

They need to be knowledgeable about your brand/product/service

You need to arm your rep with as much information so they can intelligently and quickly answer questions. As a reporter, so many times my questions were met with “Uh, I don’t know. I’ll have to get back to you.” After the third “I don’t know” I’m wondering, then what do you know and why are you calling? Ocassional IDK’s are ok. An honest IDK is preferable to sloppy, stumbling improv or anything remotely resembling falsehood. Sometimes even the best prepared rep may be caught off guard by a reporter's out left field question (I never did that...). Not one of us knows everything all the time. Normal. But when reps are consistently unable to answer what should be basic questions, something’s not right. And if I, as the reporter, have to explain to them the fundamentals of their job it doesn’t reflect well on you. Your PR person is as much a part of your team as your lawyer, accountant and anyone else you deem “important.” They need to be in the loop.

They can’t guarantee coverage

This is a biggie. Goes back to understanding the fundamental dynamic of the PR/Media relationship. No matter how media savvy your rep is, they can never guarantee coverage. It’s never a go until you see yourself on TV or read your name in print. The only surefire way to “guarantee” anything is to buy an ad. There are many factors that can contribute to sudden story death including, but not limited to, breaking news that's more important or timely such as a guy stopping on the freeway to rescue an injured puppy, or the editor's day got off to a horrible, first world start because the barista at Starbucks squirted "only" two shots of vanilla instead of three and it spills over into rearranged priorities. A good rep will never promise what they should know is not in their power to deliver. And you, boss man or lady, should not demand that they absolutely positively will land you the quintessential “front page” or they’re fired. Only Kim and Kanye have that kind of pull and power. Maybe. And face it: you’re not them. Not even close. (And that’s a good thing, by the way).

You're not them. 

You're not them. 

They must know how to write well

A good PR person must be a great writer and storyteller, which is indispensible to good PR. They should express ideas, convey meaning and create written visuals, not just rattle off words and hope they make sense. It goes without saying that good writing includes proper spelling and grammar. They know how to write at an age appropriate level: adult. Everyone makes typos now and then but a good writer will never consistently commit known federal felonies like your/you’re, to name one of the most common. Yes, good writing and storytelling is a non-negotiable must.

So you reviewed their (very well done) resume and they clearly seem to have the hard skills and experience necessary to do the job. But all the hard skills in the world won’t matter if they lack fundamental character and attitude “soft skills”/qualities that are equally, if not (almost)more important.

What are those qualities? Read on. 

(Note: For usage info of the word media as a collective noun rather than plural term, click here)

Life productivity: Getting out of a rut

Regardless of the reasons behind them, ruts can be demoralizing and they almost always crush creative and general life productivity.

I hate them.

What exactly is a rut?

For me, it’s those times when life just isn’t right; when life feels out of control, out of sync and I can’t figure out why. There’s a general yuckiness and I can’t quite put my finger on. And nothing meaningful gets done.

Various factors can lead to falling into a rut but sometimes it’s just about getting caught up in unfavorable circumstances or bad habits. Often, ruts creep up so insidiously that we don’t realize what’s happening. We come to accept negative circumstances and emotions as normal. It’s almost Stockholm Syndrome-ish; befriending the oppressor. But once we become aware, we can choose to get out by taking a proactive, pre-emptive attitude and a few practical steps.

There are a few things I have found highly effective in staying consistently rut-free in spite of circumstances.

Refuse to accept defeat — Once you suspect that you may be heading downward, refuse to roll over and accept negative emotions and circumstances as normal.

Choose to live life deliberately, with purpose and with an awareness of triggers. Reject anything that feeds self-pity or laziness. Refuse to believe that you are helpless. Take the bull by the horns and say, “I don’t think so!”

Fill your mind with usefulness — When I learned how recognize triggers and to stay focused on productivity, the darkness lifted. Rather than coddling negative emotions, I fill my mind with practical, positive, useful information and activities that cater to sanity and wellness.

I load up on writing and PR. I run to the grocery store to stock up on good eats. I go for a walk. I learn things that make me marketable and useful. Between having taken care of my body (next step) and mind, I end my day(s) on positive note.

There’s also a great sense of dignity that comes from knowing you did something proactive, small as it may be, in the direction of your goals.

Get healthy — Being proactive about your health can do wonders for overall productivity and state of mind. For me, staying healthy has meant, among other things, avoiding fast food, staying well-hydrated, green smoothies, walking, getting enough sleep and long showers first thing in the morning.

We are whole beings and what we do to one part of our being affects the other. Unhealthful habits breed negativity; healthful habits breed life and vitality. This step alone will do wonders for your state of mind.

Stay busy and connected — When you recognize the yuckiness coming on, make it a point to stay busy and connected. Get out of the house. Head to the mall or read magazines at the bookstore. Work on a creative or manual project. Cook something. Connect with the things that bring you joy.

There is so much healing power and spiritual value in even small amounts of manual labor. Idleness breeds self-pity, drama and bitterness, all of which kill the spirit and eventually destroy the body. Reject them. Keep yourself occupied, even if you don’t “feel” it. Your feelings will catch up.

Avoid drama — Drama will drive you further into a rut and bleed you dry of sanity and precious time. The best approach is to shun it like the plague. Mind your own business, don’t gossip or engage in petty back and forth, even if it ruffles feathers.

Do as the prophet Nehemiah did when he encountered gruesome, envy-driven opposition when rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Five times his enemies tried to distract and discourage him with fear and false accusations but he remained unflinchingly focused. “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?’…” (Nehemiah 6 ). In today’s language he might have said, “Ain’t no one got time for that!”

The results of his focus were epic.

Stay focused on handling your business and let go of everything else. You ain’t got time for that either.

Manage your time — Be deliberate in how you manage your time. When we allow outside influences to dictate how we spend our time, we perpetuate our rut because more often than not those influences are not positive ones.

Set a timer for certain tasks so that no one activity hogs up all your time. Limit TV/mindless entertainment consumption. Screen calls and messages. (Also a useful tip for implementing #5.) Be mindful of the minutes. Knowing you managed your time rather than letting it control you is a tremendous mood, and productivity, booster.

Declutter your space (and heart) — The physical stuff we hold on to can wrap itself around our heart and weigh it down. Decluttering your life of the old and worn lays out the red carpet for the new and amazing; new people, new purpose, new opportunities.

Toss old furniture, ratty clothes and anything that takes up space without paying rent. When you’re focused on the future, the past loses its grip and the old stuff doesn’t mean much anymore.

Overall, decluttering does wonders for your state of mind and boosts general life productivity, even if it’s over a period of time.

Be proactive — Simply choose to approach life from a proactive mindset where you are living deliberately and with purpose. Learn to recognize triggers. Refuse to be a helpless victim of circumstance or a slave to emotions. You have the power to choose what you feed your mind and body, what you occupy your time and hands with, and what you do with your emotions. We can’t always control what happens to us, we all have down days, but we do have a choice not to allow ourselves to be dragged down by circumstances or feelings.

These steps can also be applied to daily life when you just want to be more productive or make changes. They can help you get your personal house in order so that you think clearly, stay focused and prepare your heart for bigger and better blessings that are surely on the way.

 

Hello, 2017

To more pens, pencils and paper, less keyboards and screens (starting *right after* I post this...) and to lots of other good stuff

To bowing our heads in prayer instead of over our phones.

To more books, less TV.

To more handwritten notes, less emails.

To more leisurely bubble baths, less rushed showers.

To more water, less soda.

To more listening, less talking.

To more sunshine, less fluorescent lights.

To more homecooked dinners, less take out.

To better relationships, less drama. Or better yet, NO drama. 

To more simplicity, less stuff.

To truth and authenticity over public image.

To childlike trust and faith over grown-up unbelief and cynicism.

To faithfulness “in that which is least” over personal gain.

To more Jesus, less everything else, including me.

May 2017 be a year of answered prayer and spiritual abundance.

And here’s to leaving a trail of hope and sparkle wherever you go.

Photography: Life lessons from deleting 1,500 photos

I feel life very deeply.

My environment, the weather, the people around me, friendships, images, words and tiny nuances that others never notice or aren't affected by. Good or bad, I feel it all very deeply.

One of my mentors told me that's the reason why I'm a good writer. 

Perhaps. 

But either way, it's definitely the reason I felt a huge burden lift when I deleted about 1,500 from my iPhone, including from a time period of what I just like to put in a big hazmat box called, "the bad stuff". 

They weren't images of the bad stuff itself but simply many daily life photos taken in that time period. Every time I scrolled past them, they just took me back to "that" place; a place that steals more than my joy and puts me "there" all over again in a very real way, no matter how hard I try to disassociate an image of say, a tree, from the bad stuff. If it was taken during that time, it's permanently associated with the bad stuff. 

Why did I keep them so long? In retrospect, I suppose it was out of the mindset that we take tons photos with our phones and just keep them forever because that's just what we do now. I had never questioned it until now. 

I'm so glad I got rid of them. We never realize how much even seemingly weightless digital reminders actually do weigh on our soul. I felt so much better after they were all gone, apart from the general freeing up tons of space on my phone. 

But in that process, I had spark moments of creative inspiration where I decided to go back to an "old fashioned" digital camera for most meaningful picture taking and use the phone as a secondary camera and even then, delete photos right away after sharing or serving their purpose. 

Unpublished draft from April 2016

A few weeks ago I bought a new "real" camera; a little point and shoot Samsung. And in my favorite color no less. I hope to one day buy a bigger and more professional one, but for now, this one is serving a great need beyond just taking photos.

For the last few years I've been using my iPhone camera, which is great of course, but I had really missed the experience of a "real" camera. And the iPhone camera just isn't able to capture some of the images the way my mind's eye caught them.

But the experience of using a real camera also took me back to a good time in my life that I really miss in the sense that I was in a very creative and authentic place, personally and professionally. It reminded me of when I first started learning photography and discovering that I had a passion and an eye for it; it reminded me of some of the timeless images I'd captured throughout the years. You can see some of them here. It took me back to 2006, when I first became a picture taking freak and took my small camera everywhere.

Over the last few year I've really missed that and having a camera again, small and humble as it may be, helped me reconnect to me and that "good place" of creativity, connectedness to the world around me and authenticity.

I started getting to know it immediately and was curious to compare differences between the iPhone and camera. Both were high quality and both serve a purpose.  But the camera photo was much more representative of what I see in terms of nuances and distances than the cell photo. That was the experience I missed not having a camera.

Having said that, I'm not at all against phone cameras. But I'm also really happy I bought a camera because... call my crazy or backwards.... until cell phone cameras, no matter how awesome, are actually "real" cameras, only the real deal will do, at least for me, and even if only for purely personal preference. 

Either way, it feels really good to reconnect with what I love. And it looks like I'm back go carrying a camera and phone again, just like I did back in 2006, even if 2006 is "ancient" in terms of technology.

It just makes me happy. What a concept.

That's the great thing about creativity. You do what works, what's authentic and what flows, even if your flow goes against the flow of popular trends. 

Back to today

I want to be more deliberate and thoughtful in my overall approach to photography, as part of an overall life purpose and organization process. I want to snap purposefully and critically. I want to travel light digitally. I want to keep the good and discard the bad, in photography and in life.

That means.... 

No more 1,500 photos on the phone ever again.

And that's something I feel very deeply and very good about. 

Writing: Letting go

What do you do when the things you really want to say; when the core issues, questions, dreams and hurts most on your heart are the very things you can't write about publicly? 

You write about a lot of other stuff.

True stuff. Real stuff. Stuff that matters. Stuff that you care about. Stuff that may or may not (but mostly may) be connected to the stuff you can't write about and hope others are able to read in between the lines and "get" what you can't actually say. Maybe you even write about not being able to write about it. 

But never what's really, really on your heart. 

Perhaps it's never meant to be shared publicly. Perhaps it is, but in the future. Either way, the only thing to do now, is take it to God. Day after day. Moment by moment. Over and over again. 

For one thing, He's the only one who can actually do anything about the real issues. He sees, hears and knows. And He "gets" it. He gets what our own human words could never fully articulate and that our fellow human beings could never understand or fix. 

He gets it. 

And sometimes, that's enough. Sometimes, it has to be. So we let it go no matter how unresolved, unfinished, unjust, uncertain it might feel to our shortsighted human heart. No one likes to just let things go without knowing how they will turn out or without an assurance that they will work out in our favor. But trusting God means just that; not knowing and trusting anyway. 

And after we've let it go, that knowledge that God is in control becomes the fuel to channel passion, energy and creativity into the stuff that actually needs to be shared here and now because it will serve useful purpose to others. 

Those are the things that need to be said. 

Devotional: Prayer of purpose

Lord,  as I begin a new day, please make me single minded and determined to serve and honor you in all I do and say. As I embark on today’s journey, help me look past petty distractions, tune out the mindless noise, walk right past the pointless drama and the people who create it and remind me that you are my standard of truth and proper conduct, not them. Keep my eyes focused on the road, my mind grounded in your priorities and my heart completely enveloped in your joy and peace. Thank you most of all for the abundant grace to accomplish your purposes through my life, which, at the end of the day, is the only thing that matters to me. Amen.

Becoming: It's ok to change

It's ok to change.

It's ok to not like things you used to like before. It's ok to like things you didn't like before. Big things and little things. Foods, activities, music, style. It's ok to change your mind about all of them, and more. 

It's ok to admit that you were wrong about a lot of things or to realize that the proverbial "it", whatever it happens to be, just doesn't work for you anymore. 

It's ok to grow up. It's ok not to think, behave and live the same way you did when you were 20, 30 or 40 or whatever number a long time ago was for you. 

Imagine that.

Yes, it's ok to change. Just like that.

Except, it's rarely "just like that". It could be in some cases, I suppose. But usually it's been a quiet process gently percolating just underneath the surface that one day, finally manifests itself.

It's called transformation. 

"Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may be able to prove what is the perfect and acceptable will of God." Romans 12:2  (emphasis mine)

When that change is a result of a conscious, moment by moment choice to consecrate your entire being to God, not only is it pretty awesome, it's very much God's will for you. And that includes every part, every detail of your life, inside and out. 

So yes, it's ok to change: your mind, your dreams, your goals, your lifestyle, your personal preferences. 

Because when God is behind it, it's not so much you changing as it is you becoming who He created you to be. And that person might be someone you don't know exists. And His plan might be something you've never even dreamed of. But you'll never discover either as long as you're listening to the "this is who you're supposed to be" police instead of following the guidance of the unchanging God who will never steer you in any direction other than His absolute best. 

Devotional: More than enough

In this world nothing is ever good enough. We are constantly bombarded by pressures to have more, accomplish more, to be better, be prettier, be more this, more that. Sometimes these messages are bold and "in your face". Other times, they are subtle or even seemingly worthwhile and noble. But the message is always clear: be more, do more, have more. And so we pursue them because they don't appear to be inherently wrong or evil. Yet somehow, we always end up back where we started: feeling like we "need" more. 

Why?

For one thing, it's because the world's standard of beauty and success keeps changing. What is beautiful today is ugly and worn out tomorrow; what works today, doesn't work tomorrow. Today's "it" is tomorrow's leftovers. Clothes go out of style, cars get old, superficial friendships fade away, lust fizzles out, companies go bankrupt, jobs are lost, etc. and one day we realize all our efforts have been in vain because it's never good enough. And we start over again trying to have, do and be more. But this time, we do it the right way, or so we tell ourselves. It's a vicious cycle of trying to fix our brokenness with the wrong glue and ending more broken each time. 

And to be clear, there is nothing wrong with pursuing excellence or seeking a higher quality of life. We are called to a life of excellence and to live and work as "unto the Lord." The problem lies when these pursuits become our identity, our purpose and our sense of worth, accomplishment and security apart from God, no matter how much we might attach His name to our endeavors. 

But if we pursued Jesus Himself with the same amount of time, intensity and unyielding persistence that we pursue people and things, we would find the authentic and lasting solution  that we think we are going to get through the other stuff: real love, real peace, real belonging, real satisfaction, real accomplishment; and they aren't swept away with time or circumstances.

Consider this: Solomon, the wisest and richest man who ever lived admitted that all his success meaningless: "I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun." Ecclesiastes 2:10-11. 

The man who literally had everything.... brains, money, servants, worldwide fame and honor, unprecedented material possessions and success, 700 women and limitless sexual pleasure.... says, "Nah... wasn't worth it." 

In this world of "never enough" and "not good enough" Jesus is not only our "enough", He's our "more than enough." Forever, not just for a season. We find wholeness, healing, peace, belonging and rest for our weary souls in a way that people and things will never do, no matter how shiny or noble they appear today. People and things were never meant to fill and satisfy the "Jesus only" shaped hole in our human hearts. If they could, then Jesus would stand as an equal to them, not as the vastly superior life-giving Savior that He is. 

Of no human being, material possession or accomplishment can it ever be said, "For he satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness." Psalm 107:9

In this world of never enough, you Lord, are more than enough!

Copyright 2016 / Cynthia Mendoza