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Public Relations

Getting Started, Professional Advice,

Building a Strong Mentor-Mentee Relationship

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My mentor has been an important part of my professional life and, over the years, a trusted friend, confidante and adviser in many aspects of my life. She’s given me opportunities to earn experience in areas of public relations that I might not otherwise have had and is always ready with advice if I ask. If I don’t need advice, she’ll just listen.

We met when I volunteered for a nonprofit organization as an undergrad where she was serving as the communications director. We had a chance to work together on maybe a project or two before she left. I continued to volunteer for the organization and frequently asked my mentor for her advice on projects.

It wasn’t long before she asked me to help her with a client project – doing some basic media relations work. That was 8 years ago.

I am not exaggerating when I say that my career would not be where it is without her guidance and advice (and trust!). I’m a better person and a better PR professional because she’s in my life.

I think I’m pretty lucky. But how did I build this relationship and how can you seek out and develop one that works for you? I also asked my twitter network. I’ve noted their advice with a twitter ID after each point.

Being a mentee.

Being a “good” mentee has to be a part of figuring out a mentoring relationship. From the very beginning, think about this relationship as two-way. As a mentee, you have responsibilities:

  • Know yourself. Know what you’re looking for in a mentor and can identify the qualities that you want to grow in your own life. Think about your values and priorities. For example, for me a mentor without the same family-focus that I have would’ve been a problem. I need someone who understands, and encourages, work-life balance (mostly because I can forget the “life” part). (@AmandaJones)
  • Talk about your goals. Being clear about your goals and aspirations will help your mentor be clear about what you expect. (@sarahannelilly)
  • Do outstanding work and be enthusiastic. It’s rewarding to mentor someone who is learning and growing and doing work that you can both be proud of. If you’re seeking career guidance, show that you’re actively working toward those goals and making progress. (@krhodey)
  • Listen. Listen to what your mentor has to say. Only you can make the right decision for you, but good advice is valuable. Showing that you’re listening can strengthen the relationship and encourage your mentor to continue sharing his or her insights and experience. (@RichBecker & @aplambeck)
  • Reciprocate. Everyone has something to offer. Figure out how you can give back to the relationship.

Finding a mentor.

  • Set some goals. Be clear to yourself about what you’re looking for in a mentor relationship. A mentor can be helpful in many ways, and often more than one mentor is necessary and appropriate.
  • Consider logistics. Do you need a mentor who works at your company? or would you like (or need) someone from outside the organization?
  • Be proactive. Just ask! I was flattered to be asked to be a mentor recently. It really only took an email and I was on board. I also recognized that she and I would be a good fit and so it was easy to say yes. (@ntindall)
  • Ask for referrals. Ask friends, your peers or family to help identify a good mentor. You may be able to extend the possibilities far beyond your own personal network.

Being a mentor

As I mentioned early on, the mentor-mentee relationship must be two-way. The mentor also has some responsibilities besides just sharing what s/he knows. Two important “duties” stand out to me. My mentors have excelled in these areas, and that has truly benefited our relationship.

Listen. Listen to what your mentee says and needs to meet his or her goals. Clearly s/he respects you and your work, but everyone has a different life path. So your path might not be the right path. (@RichBecker)

Be genuinely interested. It is flattering when you’re asked to be a mentor, but it must be more than an ego boost for you. You need to be genuinely interested in your mentee’s life and career and eager to help meet the goals he or she has set.

Setting expectations.

Women for Hire has a great list of questions to consider at the outset of mentor relationship. I don’t know that something this formal will work for everyone, but it’s worth considering these questions and determining if the answers are important to creating a functional relationship. A few of the questions worth considering:

  • How often will you meet? Before you approach your mentor, have a good idea of how much time you’d like from her. Do you need to meet once a month or once every other month?
  • Under what circumstances will you meet? Coffee shop, home, office? Morning, lunch, evening, weekends?
  • How you will stay in touch? By phone or email? Ask what is easiest for her and be willing to accommodate that.
  • Confidentiality. This is a must on both sides, especially if you work for the same company or know many of the same people professionally. You’re likely to discuss work situations and professional relationships in the course of your work together, and you must agree to keep all information just between you.
  • Honesty. If you can’t exchange ideas freely there’s no use in getting started

So what are you waiting for? Just ask! It won’t cost you more than some time and a cup of coffee and the rewards can be tremendous.

If you have (or are) a mentor, I’d love to hear your tips and stories! Please share in the comments.

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Linky Love of Numbers

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Spiekermann House NumbersImage by Stewf via Flickr

Sorry for the delay in posting this week’s linky love. But I found lots of good stuff and and each is a numbered list. How handy!

Debunking Six Social Media Myths (BusinessWeek, written by BL Ochman aka @whatsnext)

Five Digital Trends to Watch for 2009 (Authenticities, written by Steve Rubel aka @steverubel)

Five Stories of Twittering Gone Bad (Network Solutions via @SuziSteffan)

Five Ways to Gain More Value from Your PR Agency (PR Squared, written by UofO Alum Nicole Jordan aka @nicolejordan)

10 Social Media Questions Worth Asking (Socialized aka @jpostman)
** think about some or all of these questions as your post this week.

5 Essential Social Media Strategies for a Bad Economy (Social Media Explorer, written by David Finch aka @davidfinch)

10 Ways to Boost Your Blogging (Danny Brown aka @dannybrown)
** Thinking about continuing your blog beyond this term? Some good tips and ideas to think about/write about.

Lessons From TED: 5 Simple Tweaks (Slideology)
** Great tips for your presentations this week, J452 students.

Three Ways to Give a Good Interview and One Way to Shake Things Up (Blazen Careerist, Penelope Trunk @penelopetrunk)

Six Warning Signs of a Problem Client (Freelance Switch aka @freelancesw)
** I know you won’t really get these yet, but trust me, it’s worth considering what makes a good client.

Not on theme, but very useful.
How to Run an Informational Interview (Darren Barefoot)
** Spring break is a great time to do info interviews, read up.

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Future of PR, Professional Advice, Public Relations,

What Does the PRo of the Future Look Like?

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The very ground on which we stand in public relations is shifting. Like tectonic plates colliding miles under the surface, these changes are shaking up the industry. The PRos of the future will need to have different skills and use more traditional skills in new ways. These changes are creating new opportunities for smart, creative thinkers.

John Bell at Ogilvy’s 360 Digital Influence Team offers 13 skills that will be required for PR professionals to succeed in the future. His PR Brain for 2009 looks different than the PR brain looked even seven years ago when I finished my undergrad degree.


You can read John’s post, but the point of his skills that I take away are that you have to be quick, responsive (not reactive) and creative. You also must know how to think in terms of measurement, ROI and be able to talk business.

Katie Paine offers six skills that PRos of the future need to have in a recent newsletter article. Katie offers that incoming professionals must be able to listen, create campaigns with the audience in mind and value truth and transparency. She reinforces John’s point about measurement. PR professionals must know how to measure and make decisions based on data.

They’ll make decisions based on data, not gut feelings. Yes the gut will still be a powerful tool, but in an environment that morphs faster than you can say “Utterli, Seesmic, Plurk, and Twittergrader,” the gut will be a very difficult thing to read and rely upon.

Amy Ziari, rounds out these three recent posts with insights from a (fairly) recent grad. Amy is an Oregon alum and has a very forward looking perspective about new PR grads as the future of the industry. She offers this:

I’m proposing that recent grads have such an incredible knowledge source at their fingertips. We will be the leaders in advancing our profession forward, and teaching our agencies and many of our coworkers about these changes. We will also be the ones brainstorming ways to take our profession to the next level in the future as human communications and media continue to evolve. We are a generation like no other. That can offer to our profession like no other.

I am excited for my students. It’s a new world with tremendous opportunity and they will be ready for the future.

What do you think? What skills do new PRos need to have? How is the industry changing?

Tips for Monitoring the Media & Writing Coverage Reports

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If you’re dreaming an agency career, chances are you will need to know how to monitor the media for coverage.

Often the monitoring doesn’t mean just collecting a bunch of links, but writing short summaries of the coverage so the busy executive can breeze through and read those pieces that are important.

The final product at the end of the quarter is a clip book.

When you put it altogether, the clip book is one measure of the value of the work that the public relations team is doing. It’s just one measure, but at the intern or account coordinator level, it may be the one that you have the most ability to contribute to.

Here are some tips for media monitoring and writing coverage reports:

  • Understand why it’s important. I can promise you that monitoring and putting together clip books is bor-ing. But if you understand the why, it helps relieve the tedium.

    Are you looking for any type of mention to stay on top of what’s being said on a daily basis? Or is it about looking for specific coverage to show your team’s success conveying the campaign’s key messages in key publication? Or maybe somewhere in between?

    Each scenario could result in a slightly different approach for monitoring and reporting. Ask to be briefed on the overall campaign and business goals.

  • Think strategically about how to find what you’re looking for.

    Client name? duh. Product or service? might be a good idea. Competitors? sure. All these are probably top-of-mind, but what about trends, issues, key individuals’ names, the company’s URL? Keep thinking. I’m sure there’s more. If you understand the objectives that the coverage is helping to meet, then you’re better equipped to be smart about your choices.

  • Learn to use the tools.

    Whether your agency has paid monitoring tools like Cision, Factiva or Burrelle’s Luce or you’re using tools like Google Alerts and Technorati, you need to know how to get the most out of them.

    If you’re using a paid service, request a training with your sales representative or customer service agent. Trust me, it’s in the job description.

    If you need to monitor on the cheap, Google Alerts can be set up for the Web, news, blogs, groups, video and a comprehensive search. Go to the Google Alerts home page and make your choice.

  • When writing reports, be empathetic. What would your supervisor and the client need to know about a particular article or piece of coverage? Focus on what’s important and even more specifically on what might require action.

Monitoring and writing coverage reports and putting together clip is a first step at understanding measurement. Proving the value of public relations generally, and media relations specifically, can be a tricky thing, but is vital to showing a return on investment.

I’m working with a group of interns to monitor media and report daily on coverage related to Eugene 08. I’ll be back with some specific examples as we begin that project.

For those readers who have been interns or entry-level folks and have advice to add, please do so! (I haven’t made a clip book in about 9 years!) 🙂

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Uncategorized,

So What do Public Relations Professionals Do, Anyway?

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Some ongoing critiques of PR “professionals” methods, some recent discussion about how we define ourselves and and constant battle to explain what I do to my parents (they’ll tell you I am a teacher) has meant I’m thinking a lot about what we do as public relations professionals and what it means to practice PR.

We can always cite the “bible” of public relations, Cutlip, Center and Broom’s definition which goes a little something like this:

“Public relations is a management function that seeks to identify, build, and maintain mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and all of the publics on whom its success or failure depends”

That’s great, but what do public relations professionals DO? In a final-chapter manifesto from Berger and Reber’s book “Gaining Influence in Public Relations,” they give us a list of things that we DON’T do.

“HEAR THIS: I am not a flack, a shill, a barker, a hustler, or a spinner. I do not stonewall, distort language, construct false images, or blindly follow directions in the interests of my organization or its leaders” (p. 247).

(Thanks to Tiffany Derville for making me more familiar with this work.)

The “doing” part is still unclear. Let’s keep looking.

When I was an undergrad, I’d spend time looking through the used-to-be-free Holmes Report knowledge base to answer this question. If I go into public relations, what would I be doing?

I’d click on something like “community relations” and the database would spit out a dozen or so case studies that fell under that theme. Each case study would provide the activities of that campaign – thus, giving me a sense of what came under the umbrella of “community relations.”

Thanks to the Internet, you can still get access to lots of good case studies:

Great… so you have to read a ton of case studies to decide if PR is for you? Or what to expect from your career? Not necessarily.

  • Join your local PRSSA or PRSA chapter (or the equivalent where you are). Our PRSSA chapter at the University of Oregon focuses on professional development and bringing in speakers from many facets of public relations to talk about their work.
  • Get involved in your student-run agency.
  • Do informational interviews.

Public relations is such a multi-faceted field that you need to take responsibility to explore and to figure out how the textbook definitions translate in the real world. But take the textbook definitions with you. They are important and help create a common foundation from which all ethical PR professionals operate.

What do you think?

Crisis Communications, Guest Post,

Guest Post: What Virginia Tech is Doing Right (and Wrong)

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This post is a letter from my mentor, Leslie Habetler, to some of her crisis planning and management clients. With her permission, I’m reposting it here.

As I watch this unfold, I thought it might be helpful to point some things out that would be helpful if you ever face such a situation (in any scale). First it is obvious they have a crisis response plan and they are doing a lot right.

For those of you whom I have helped in this way, you can see what they are doing right in handling the media. The President has obviously had good media coaching and they are keeping a careful log of everything they are doing so the media knows they are acting in an
aggressively appropriate manner. The university media person is cranking out updates for him at a rapid pace and they are posting them on the website and on every medium available to keep rumor down. The police chief is not losing his cool but his exhaustion is clear and he is suffering from the trauma of what he has seen. He is being very very careful and doing a good job in the face of some extremely insistent media.

The problem as I see it is the media is in control of the conference and that must never happen. If you are ever in this situation, it is vital that you stay in control of these media briefings.

You must face the media but you get to set the rules…don’t ever let them think otherwise. Here is what I would do from the beginning: Set up the media conference time, make it clear that the president and the police chief will make an update statement and then open it up to questions. So far so good.

Here is what is not happening: The pr person is not setting adequate boundaries and rules. Most important is setting a time limit for the Q&A period and spelling out rules for asking questions. Such as: requiring them to raise their hand and be recognized in order to ask a question. (They are all shouting at him and he is exhausted) Also notice that the reporters are
asking the same questions over and over in slightly different ways to try to get the Chief to spill some previously unspilled ‘beans’. Learn to say, “I have answered that question” and recognize someone else. Or even “asked and answered” And then move on to another reporter.
Notice also that some reporters are trying to put words in his mouth. Learn to say, “Those are your words, not mine”. and move on to another reporter.

You must be in charge. At the end of the allotted Q&A time, your pr person must step up to the mike and say “we have time for one more question” and then step up again to thank them for coming, telling them when the next briefing is and direct them to the website where updates will be posted. (While he is doing this, someone is getting you off that stage and out of
there.)

You will probably never face anything of this magnitude but it is at least worth noting and thinking through with your employees.

Best regards to all of you, Leslie Habetler

Photo: Alan Kim, The Roanoke Times via Associated Press

The Rise of the Blogger.

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Guest Post from Erica Harbison, Waggener Edstrom and member of the PRos in Training “advisory board”

It’s almost a new year – perfect time to resolve to learn more about blogging and bloggers.

So you’ve been hearing a lot about the rise in influence and importance of bloggers, eh? I’m here to tell you that from a PR perspective, what you’re seeing and hearing is true.

Bloggers are here to stay for the foreseeable future and they (we) are powerful. I say “we” because if you haven’t gotten on the blog bandwagon by now, you’re already behind. Being a blogger, as Kelli has evangelized many times before, is the first step in knowing how to reach bloggers. If you’re driving a PR campaign, it’s nearly always appropriate to think about how to reach include bloggers in your strategy.

Your first piece of homework is to research bloggers who are writing about your client / product / industry. How do I do this, you say? Check out Technorati as a first stop. As you do this, take note of who the bloggers are. Where do they live? What are they saying? What blogs do they read and link to? What seems to influence them, and what bloggers or media outlets are linking to them? Besides the average joe blog sites, are you finding sites maintained by pundits in a particular area (e.g. marketing, technology, sports, etc)? In most cases, these should be your target blog audience.

Now reaching bloggers via traditional PR tactics is a tricky business. They are not like reporters who want to be “pitched.” The rules are completely different. The agency I work for has been trying out different strategies to reach these guys and it seems to be working (hosting special blogger-only events and organizing suites for bloggers to post/podcast at tradeshows). The key thing with bloggers is they don’t want to be PR’d. Here are some things I’ve learned:

  • Like traditional press, always know what they write and their slant before outreaching.
  • When you contact a blogger, whether its via posting a comment to their recent blog entry or in the way of a “buddy mail” (essentially an email pitch), keep it casual. Establish yourself and your client with the blogger before coming on too strong.
  • Don’t offer interviews with your spokesperson. Bloggers are not like traditional press. Interviews should be organized only if you feel very confident that you will not be putting your client at risk for a bad experience. Remember, bloggers can write what ever they want; no one is editing/reviewing. There is always a risk for bad “press” when dealing with bloggers.
  • Does your target blogger seem to have a favorite news site? Plan to place a story about your client on this site to get your blogger’s attention. He/she may end up linking to it, or better yet, writing a stand-alone blog post about your news. This is a great way to extend your media relations efforts.

I could go on and on, but that’s probably enough for now to get you started. Happy blogging (and blog reading).

photo: Kelli & Erica, January 2006

Be-attitudes For PR Students in 2007

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With the new year, comes a new term and a new chance for students of all kinds to think about how to be better.

1. Be Curious: Read, ask questions, find out everything you can about your chosen profession. In public relations that means reading the industry blogs (I recommend Communication Overtones, PR Squared and On Message), paying attention to industry news (PR Tactics, PR Week and Bulldog Reporter’s Daily Dog), talking to local professionals in your community and being an avid consumer of media.

2. Be Engaged: Beyond curiosity, engage your mind. What are the greater implications of what you’re reading, listening to or talking about?

3. Be Empathetic: To succeed in public relations, you must be able to put yourself in another’s shoes. Practice now! How did your teammate come to that conclusion? If you were a member of a particular target audience, how would a company or organization reach you? As a client, how often would you want a report and what information would be important?

4. Be Active: Active involvement in pre-professional organizations is an excellent way to be involved on your campus and in your community and make connections for your future at the same time. At the University of Oregon, PR students are involved in PRSSA and Allen Hall Public Relations, the student-run public relations agency.

Start your own blog, make connections via social networks like MySpace or Facebook. Find a new site like Zaadz, 43things or even Dogster.

5. Be Responsible: Your actions, your education and, yes, your grade are your responsibility. Your instructors (hopefully) provide the direction and the tools. But if you’re serious about your education and your future career, personal responsibility is essential. If you need help, get it. If you have a question, ask.

6. Be Confident: As you mature into a young professional, trust your instincts and your ability to find a great internship, offer counsel to your brother’s friend’s start-up company and generally do good work. The balance, of course, is to be confident and humble. Know when you are in over your head and get help.

7. Be Passionate!: The beautiful thing about choosing a career in public relations is that you can find the industry that makes you passionate about communicating. Maybe it’s performing arts? Or high-tech? For me, it’s nonprofit work and social change. Find your passion and shout it from the rooftops!

In 2007 these six “be-attitudes” will be, in many ways, easier. We have greater access to information and resources that help us achieve to our maximum potential.

This post is part of the ProBlogger group writing project.

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All-Time Favorites, Media Relations,

How to Write a Basic Media Relations Strategy

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The ability to work with the media is our “value added” in public relations (and one of the key reasons PR is in the journalism school at the UofO)… So when you want to add a media relations strategy to a client plan or proposal, how do you do it?

“Get [my organization] on morning talk shows” is not a media relations strategy.

First, think about your target audience. You need to have a solid understanding of who your target audience is. Have you painted a picture that makes it clear what media they use and respond to. If not, do more research.

Once you’re comfortable with your understanding on the audience, you’re ready to move forward with recommended strategy. Your strategy needs to include your key messages and the tone of the media materials that you will create.

For example, say you’re working with a local humane society on recruiting more adopters and your target audience is senior citizens. Your objective might be: To raise awareness of [the humane society] among senior citizens so to encourage more adoptions.

You’ve determined through your research that your target audience reads the local newspaper daily. Your strategy might read something like this:

To accomplish this objective, we recommend a media relations strategy that focuses on the health benefits of owning an animal. According to APPMA.org, health benefits include lower blood pressure, longer life and lower stress levels. The Humane Society should identify key spokespeople from this target audience to dispel possible myths about behavior or social problems of shelter animals and discuss the benefits of adopting from the Humane Society.

The specific tactics would follow-on in a priority list and would include the steps to take to execute the strategy and meet the objective.

What else goes into a media relations strategy? Check out these articles:
Ten Steps for Successful Media Relations (on aboutpublicrelations.net)
Website Pressroom – A Key Promotional Tool

Other tips? What key elements must be considered for an effective media relations campaign?

How to get a job in PR

I was updating my blogroll and cruising around some new PR-related blogs this evening and came across this post. It’s an “oldie,” but a goodie – and worth bookmarking.

From Morgan McClintic at LEWIS (current employer of Sharon Howell, UO ’06) talks about what he looks for in a new hire. He has some great tips.

A highlight is his description of the type and number of internships you should have. When students ask, I’m always reluctant to be specific, so I will let Morgan do it for me:

Internships – the definition of internship varies by country – in some it’s just a few weeks, in others months. Regardless of the length, get at least two different internships before applying for your final role. This will help you decide if PR is really for you – it’s not all champagne and parties. It’ll also give you a feel for the tasks you’ll be charged with, whether you like agency or in-house, and which industry you like. You’ll also learn more about which firms are the good ones to work with when it comes to applying for positions.

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