A Typical Day in the Life of a Public Relations Professional in 2018

The irony of the headline above is that there is no typical day in public relations.

I think that’s why most of us enjoy what we do.

For me, there is a skeleton of a day waiting for me when I get to my office, but rarely a day goes by where I don’t have a wrench thrown in my plans.

Every night, before I leave the office, I write my to-do list on a giant whiteboard in my office so I know what I need to work on the next day. I find that if I write down what I have to do, I don’t stress over it when I go home.

My whiteboard.

When I arrive at work to start the day, every task (whether it’s for that day or over the course of the next few days) is in front of me. Even if it’s as simple as a follow-up phone call, I write it down. Not only does it keep me on track, but there’s something therapeutic about crossing off a task on the list.

Once I have my coffee in hand, I’m ready to start the day.

The day always begins with a quick glance at the news to see what’s trending and if any coverage ran for my clients.

Knowing what’s trending also gives me ideas for ways I can insert my clients into other stories, or come up with brand new pitches that revolve around what’s happening in their industry.

This is especially important when there are lulls between news cycles. You always want to keep your client top-of-mind. It does them no good if they go dark when they are not making an announcement.

At any given moment, I have a few pieces of coverage I’m managing. These stem from interviews that have been conducted or bylined articles that have been submitted. If I come across a piece of coverage I’m responsible for, I alert the client.

Once that is out of the way, I get down to doing the bulk of my work for the day, which usually revolves around writing.

Whether I’m writing a press release, a pitch to a reporter, or an e-mail to a client, I would venture a guess that 90 percent of my work is done via the written word.

If you can’t write, you won’t last long. But you also need to harbor a love for writing because it will become readily apparent if you’re just going through the motions.

(Of course, if you are not a good writer, but you’ve been hired to work at an agency, then that might not be your fault.)

If I’m not trying to persuade a reporter to consider my story via email, I’m picking up the phone and calling them. Sometimes it’s easier to reach them that way when they are bombarded by hundreds of emails a day. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll get an answer from them, even if it’s “no”.

As long as the day go according to my to-do list, I’ve crossed off a number of things and, if I’m lucky, landed some interest from a reporter to talk to a client.

I maintain that we are only as good as the coverage we secure; it’s our currency. If we’re not producing in that department, then what good are we?

Of course, I work with other clients who task us with producing content. Obviously we’re not driving coverage for them through that activity, so that becomes a different deliverable.

Before I know it, the day draws to a close and I start to compile a list of things I need to do the following day. I’ve been collecting them on various pieces of paper strewn about my desk. (See what I mean when I say I’d be stressed out if I didn’t write everything down in one place?)

Before I leave, I make one last check of my email, check Waze to see how bad the commute home will be, then leave the office. At this time of year, it’s light out a bit longer, which is nice. I hate leaving the office when it’s dark out.

***

That’s my day.

It’s nothing sexy, but it’s a high-level look at what I do. I suppose it’s not much different than what a public relations professional did in 1998 or 2008, albeit with more technology.

Maybe someday I’ll automate most of my tasks or the robots will have taken over.

But until then, I’ll stick to my dry erase markers and whiteboard to help me do my job.

Did you read anything that piqued your interest? Let me know in the comments and I can elaborate.

Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash

How Will Artificial Intelligence Impact Public Relations?

Artificial intelligence is going to touch nearly every industry in America within the next decade or two.

In fact, according to a study from 2013, nearly half of the jobs in the United States are at risk of succumbing to artificial intelligence within that time frame.

It doesn’t matter if you are a pilot, a truck driver, or a radiologist. Companies are working on technology right now that could, potentially, eliminate the human factor of those jobs very soon.

But! You say. Those jobs are already heavily influenced by tech. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think we could eliminate the co-pilot on an given flight since automation already plays a large role in flying an airplane.

Okay, fine. I’ll give you that. But name a job that isn’t heavily influenced by tech right now.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

That’s what I thought.

Every job is influenced by tech.

It’s hard to think of a job that won’t feel the effect of technology or automation in the next ten years, and that goes for public relations, as well.

When I think about how our jobs will be impacted by AI, I think of the AI that wrote a new Harry Potter chapter.

I’ll save you a click by telling you it was created after training an algorithmic tool on all seven novels. The final result was a chapter hilariously titled “Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like A Large Pile of Ash.”

Granted, it was terrible.

But it shows there are people working hard to train AI to write original content.

This could, hypothetically, find its way into our industry someday.

Imagine if you could have an original press release written just by inputting a few key words or phrases into a software tool that would then spit out your news release?

Don’t you think companies would be willing to invest in that tool that could write something in a quarter of the time as a human writer?

Maybe the final result wouldn’t be very creative, but when was the last time your press release was graded on its creativity?

Another area where I see AI injecting itself into our work is sifting through data to help us do our job.

Instead of searching Cision for the right reporter, hoping our pitch is in their wheelhouse, we might someday use AI to sift through hundreds of articles to find the exact right reporter who is writing about what we’re pitching, using keywords and search terms to find a target.

In that world, PR professionals and AI work together in perfect harmony and everybody wins.

Those are two scenarios I could see playing out in the near future, and I don’t think we’ll need to wait a decade.

But where we can remain valuable is in the business of relationships.

If you’re a PR person worth your salt, you’ve accumulated relationships with members of the media that are worth their weight in gold. It’s something no robot can ever replicate.

Hell, the word “relations” is in our job title! Robots are not programmed (at least, not yet) to conduct personal relationships. They won’t understand why we value them so much, so they’ll probably ignore them.

No doubt the future of work is going to look vastly different in the next few decades. Everyone is going to have to come to terms with change, and some of it might not be pretty.

But I don’t think we have to bemoan the loss of our livelihood.

As long as we continue to show off our value to our clients in the form of great coverage, born from years of fruitful media relationships and creative thinking, we can probably stave off a robot public relations uprising, or, at the very least work, work hand-in-hand with AI.

But if that fails?

I, for one, will welcome our PR overlords.

Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash

The Secret to Writing Great Press Releases

Here’s another secret I want to share before I write more words: the press release is not dead.

I could go on and on and on  (and on) about why those who say the press release is dead are merely doing it for the hot takes, but the joke’s on them – the press release’s eulogy has been given so often that it just falls on deaf ears.

Meanwhile, those who know how to use them continue to see great results.

But just because it’s not dead doesn’t mean you should immediately fire up your Word processor and pound one out for your client.

There are still ground rules to follow to ensure an effective press release.

Lucky for all three of my readers, I’m in a giving mood today, so here are some secrets to writing great press releases.

For The Love of God, Use It To Break News

The quickest way to earn a press release deletion is to publish one that includes no news and is used just to appease a client or boss.

Don’t do that. You’ll anger the reporter (your intended audience) and it will be relegated to the scrap heap. (Plus, it’s quite obvious to everyone when a press release is issued just to issue a press release.)

Think long and hard about what you are announcing before you start typing.

Is your company announcing how innovative it is? Skip the release.

Is your company proving its innovation by releasing a new widget that will help customers in the space? Now we’re talking.

Don’t write a press release just to write a press release.

You can use that time to work on other projects.

Wait until you have news that is worthy of a news release, then move ahead.

Make Quotes Meaningful

Every press release includes quotes from executives, but most of those quotes are fluff.

“We are very excited to…”

“We are pleased to…”

“Blah blah blah…”

To increase the chances of a reporter pulling one of the quotes and using it in a story, write something meaningful.

I like to draft quotes from my executives that announce something significant as part of the announcement.

For instance, if we go back to the innovative widget I talked about up above, the quote might read something like this:

“This new widget will allow our customers to cut down on lead time by fifty percent thanks to a state-of-the-art process that is exclusive to our company,” said executive.

This is an important part of the story and a big reason why a customer might decide to use your company’s widget. Not only are you expressing that to the customer, but you are setting yourself apart from your competitors, and your executive gets the credit.

Don’t Forget About Pictures

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how come we don’t think about a visual component to the press release more often?

We spend so much time getting the words right that the image (if there even is one) becomes an afterthought; something we just haphazardly attach to the release before it goes live.

But a lot of sites (like GM’s media site, for instance) make images the focal point of the news.

No press release on the GM media site goes out without an image, even if it’s just a headshot of an executive. These images, when used correctly, can go a long way in helping to explain the news to the media, especially when the news is built around something that is new or complicated.

Keep Your Target Audience In Mind 

You are writing for the media. Full stop.

Sure, your leadership team and some of your customers will see the press release on your website once it’s released. But the purpose of issuing this release is so that media will want to write a story about your company.

If you are writing it for another audience, you’re doing it wrong.

Once the internal edits start flying back-and-forth, it’s easy to focus on the wants of those who are making the news instead of those who will consume it. But you have to stay focused on the fact that media need, well, the facts.

Do your best to eliminate flowery language and anything else that takes away from the gist of the release. Stick to the inverted pyramid and your audience will thank you.

Think Of It As Content

Content: so hot right now.

Think of your press release as another piece of content you create to tell your company’s story.

Before you put it up on your media site, take some time to practice proper SEO. Once you’ve done that — and you learn to master SEO over time — your press releases will not only earn coverage, but they will act as a beacon on the web for those who are interested in what you have to say.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

What’s Wrong With Being A Public Relations Generalist?

There’s a phrase you’ve probably heard that goes like this: “A mile wide and an inch deep.”

According to Urban Dictionary, the phrase is used to describe somebody who seems smart and intelligent at first, but is found to be less-than impressive after you spend time getting to know them.

These folks are perfectly capable of holding their own for a few minutes. But once you start to drill down into their knowledge base, it becomes quite clear they know just enough to be dangerous.

Sadly, I fear that is how a lot of public relations professionals are viewed, and I’ll use myself as an example.

Just over a year ago, I was pitching stories about General Motors fleet vehicles to fleet trades.

When I switched jobs, I focused on stories around the 3D printing of automotive parts and artificial intelligence (along with, seemingly, everybody else in the field.)

When I lost my job at the end of last year, I started working with a new agency where the majority of my clients are in the commercial real estate business.

Fleet vehicles. 3D printing. Commercial real estate.

Can you think of three more disparate industries?

I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking my expertise on these subjects amounted to me being “a mile wide and an inch deep.”

But the basic tenets of public relations storytelling remain the same, no matter which topics you pitch.

It doesn’t matter if I’m pitching WIRED for a story about artificial intelligence’s impact on manufacturing or the Detroit Free Press for a story about Detroit’s real estate rebirth.

If I can uncover trends and offer experts who can speak to those trends, I’m able to land coverage, even if I don’t have a deep well of knowledge in either subject.

And by keeping tabs on what reporters on specific beats are covering, I can tailor my pitches to their interests.

These are PR tactics that have withstood the test of time, and every public relations practitioners should practice them.

I’ve written before that in order to be helpful to a reporter, you need need to focus on certain activities.

If you weave them into your repertoire, you will be successful, no matter what story you pitch.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Five Ways to be Valuable to a Reporter Right Now

Imagine if every day when you came to work, you were forced to endure the fact that people outside of your profession were going to constantly berate you for doing your job.

Then imagine those same people had no idea how to do your job, but wanted to yell at you because they disagreed with you.

Does this sound familiar? It should.

Welcome to the state of journalism in 2018!

Not only has journalism found itself warding off attacks from all sides this past year, but journalists are overworked because we need them more than ever, which is the height of irony.

(If you have a few minutes: read this op-ed in the New York Times on truthfulness and fake news. It shines a light on what journalists have to deal with on a regular basis.)

On top of the daily attacks and being over-worked, journalists are underpaid.

Ridiculed. Overworked. Underpaid. Not appreciated.

How would you like that to be your job description?

Thankfully, most of the reporters I have had the pleasure of dealing with are in the business because they love it.

They understand the role they play in this country’s growth, and they see their existence as vital to the well-being of this great country.

On a somewhat less important level, however, the health of the public relations industry is directly tied to the health of journalism, even if there has been a significant shift in owned media vs. earned media.

If journalism dies, public relations probably dies along with it, although our death would be slow and painful and full of uncertainty.

So it’s up to us, as PR professionals, to do our part to help journalists thrive, even if we it’s a bit of selfish act on our part to land better coverage for our clients.

Here’s how you can become valuable to a reporter right now and beyond.

Buy Them a Coffee

Coffee is the unofficial drink to have during conversations, and I am a huge proponent of having coffee with as many people as you can.

Every single journalist is a natural born storyteller. Thus, they want to know where to find the best stories.

If you buy them a coffee and spend an hour with them, you will come to understand what they are looking for in a story and then be able to provide them with better ideas when you pitch them a story down the road.

It’s more valuable if you can meet with a reporter who is new to a city or beat.

Rarely will a reporter turn down an invite if their schedule allows, because it’s implied it can lead to better pitches down the road.

Speaking of pitches…

Don’t Send Stupid Pitches

Not only is sending a pitch that doesn’t fall in the reporter’s wheelhouse a fast way to lost their trust, but you risk being outed for bad behavior on Dear PR, which I imagine is the same as being blackballed in Hollywood.

With less reporters shouldering more reporting responsibilities, it is in yours and your client’s best interest to give reporters ideas they can actually use.

This involves reading their stories, researching the publication to find the right reporter to pitch, and not sending the same pitch to five different reporters in the hopes that one will bite.

It’s not that hard, yet, it seems we still need some practice.

Share Their Content

In this day and age of reporting the news, the savvy reporters know they need to be active on social media, and the most successful reporters already use their personal channels to share their content.

But we can help by sharing their content, as well. But don’t do it and expect that to improve the odds they will cover your news; do it because it’s an interesting piece that you truly believe your audience would benefit from reading.

Read Their Coverage

This one falls back to the stupid pitch idea: read what the reporters are writing about to gain a better understanding of their beat.

It’s one thing to use Cision to pull a list of reporters who cover technology, but there are many areas within tech that are covered by different reporters.

Instead of taking a stab in the dark with your email pitch, read the coverage to discover who is interested in your technology pitch specifically, then target them.

Buy a News Subscription

The New York Times doubled their audience last year, with 3.5 million paid subscriptions helping to move “The Gray Lady” to unexpected profit. This, alone, would be a signal that things are on the upswing for journalists, but one year does not a success story make.

I don’t know about you, but it’s frustrating trying to read articles in the Washington Post and Times when I keep running up against my monthly limit, so I bought paid digital subscriptions for each to do my part (and I’m a more informed citizen and professional because of it.)

You can subscribe to both for less than $20/month, which is totally worth it in this 24/7 media barrage.

And, by doing so, you’re helping to keep alive an institution that is vital to our democracy, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Photo by Philip Strong on Unsplash