Publicists are people too

“There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary.”- Brendan Behan

How I feel some days

I’ve been thinking a lot about my profession recently. I’ve always felt like an impostor. I was never a publicity or marketing major. As a journalism major I wasn’t taught how to push a story, I was taught how to recognize one, how to write one. My whole life I’ve been fascinated by writing, authors and publishing. I think that’s how I found myself interning at a publishing house. As a publicity intern, I was trained by the best. The way they taught me wasn’t much different than what I had been trained to do already. You found the story, or the hook, within a book or an author’s story and then you connect with journalists/reporters/producers to tell them the story. I loved it! So right before graduation when I was offered a full time job as Children’s publicist, I was on cloud nine!

But then I met what I like to call, piranha publicists. I’d go on publicity trips, to meetings with other publicists, interview publicity firms and talk to other publicists and it seemed like there were so many piranhas. They would be fashionably dressed with every hair in place and they’d float around the room introducing themselves and exchanging cards so fast it would make your head spin. This is not my strength. Quite frankly, rooms full of people I don’t know scare me. It’s like a blind date, awkward. I’d watch from the corner as these publicists would work the room fighting over a front page story. No wonder us flacks seem to have such a bad rep with journos. Is this what I would have to do to be a publicist?  I didn’t know if I could hack it.

As I settled into my job, made more trips to meet the journalists, reporters and producers I realized that even though I would never work a room or fight for a journalist’s attention at a party, I did have a sweet spot: one on one connections. I love journalists. I love their sharp wit, their passion, their curiousity and their way of exposing the heart of a story to the reader. Some of my very best friends are journalists. I’ve learned from them. They ask questions. They learn about people. I took that and integrated it in who I was as a publicist. I would ask questions of the media, “How can I help you with what you’re doing?” This simple question has gotten me a long way.

What are these called again?

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know two things as a publicist. First, publicity is changing and second, we have to change how and where we go for publicity. You can’t just throw a press release out there on the wires and see if it will stick. Publicity is personal, it’s specialized. Here’s what I’ve learned so far…

1. Spread the story– Jon Dale hit the nail on the head with this post.  PR is about spreading the story. The great thing is that there are more people you can potentially spread it to but you need to be selective. Really think about who its appropriate for. More than ever, publicists are now connecting and engaging not only with media but directly with the consumer. Figure out what’s the hook, what’s the story and then tell it…not only to traditional media but the consumer.

2. PR isn’t public relations, it’s personal relationships– I went to a media mixer last week where there was a panel of the creme de la creme of Nashville media were on a panel. They answered questions like how they choose a story, how they like to be pitched and how to get that coveted ink. The main point…treat them like people. Ask how they’re doing, don’t just spout off your pitch. Sounds like common sense but how often do we as publicists just shoot an email to our contacts to see how they are, how their kids are, what they’re writing about? Trust me, this not only goes a long way but you’ll meet some fabulous people. Whether it’s the Lifestyle editor at the New York Times or a mommy blogger, take the time to get to know them.

3. Work the room– This is what I need to work at. I work with some fabulous publicists. I learn so much from them everyday. I got to go to a conference with our Director of Communications, Lindsey and it was fascinating to me that for both of us, playing the get to know you games was like pulling teeth. We just didn’t like it. But I’d watch Lindsey push herself to do it- and she was great at it! The fascinating thing was, Lindsey didn’t hit and run these people. She was genuinely interested and I’d bet she now talks to them on a consistent basis. You don’t have to meet everyone in a room but pick a couple new people to meet and go for it. Get out of the corner.

I guess I could learn a thing or two from these piranhas. I could wear a dress or even a blouse one or two days I guess. And hey, maybe I’ll curl my hair and see what happens!

What do you think? What are some tips you would give to publicists?

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33 thoughts on “Publicists are people too

  1. This is a great post! I agree with you on all points! I too, wasn’t a PR or marketing major–I’m just an English/Writing girl with a journalism minor. But you do learn from working with great people. I also hate ice breakers/small talk with strangers…it’s just not my thing either. We publicists need to stick together. Ultimately, we all have the same goal: to share great information with the world (even if we are sometimes competing with each other to get it). 🙂

      • Thanks! Well, I only took one intro to PR class in college (senior year) and graduated just wanting to do something with writing. I didn’t have a job lined up, but to make a long story short, I ended up working as a freelance corporate communications specialist for the Chicago Tribune (they found me!) and then after six months got a full-time position at Tyndale. Corporate communications is different from book publicity, but in many ways it’s similar too. Now I’ve just been learning as much as I can from others and learning more about PR on the job. I think your comment just inspired me to do a blog post on how I got into my profession. 🙂

  2. I think its such an important role as a publicist to do dual time….while the time spent with other publicist and events is very vital to growth and great relationships with vendors, companies, and events, it is also important to spent time with those who are happy and unhappy as clients.
    Listen to the strengths through your clients eyes and hear the weaknesses when appropriate.
    The truth is people so want to be able to count on you as the representative, the polish is great, but integrity in your position is what closes the deals.
    Your writing is well done…thank you for your openness!
    hugs!
    Sweetie

    • Thanks so much! You know, I couldn’t agree more, honesty and integrity are integral to any relationship but especially one between a client and a publicist. It’s almost like a dating relationship. Listen, listen, listen.

  3. I think you may have a better perspective on how to be a good publicist than even the “trained professionals.” 🙂 I think it’s probably more about relationships and approaching people with something they can really use, rather than just trying to close a deal.

    • Exactly. I think so often journalists feel like they just get a barrage of email and phone pitches most of which they don’t care about! The journalists on the panel were saying sometimes they can’t even get a word in edgewise. I’m sure it’s the same on your end with marketing and ads.

  4. Great blog! There are some publicists that wanted me to hire them when I was in the music industry and they were so aggressive even with me that it turned me off from hiring them. I would much rather work with somebody who is truly “likable” and somebody who truly wants to build relationship.

  5. As a child I devoured books and even wrote a few of my own. English was always my best subject, but then I got to high school and fell in love with marketing. I became president of the marketing club, ran our school store, and created fundraising promotions & ad compaigns. College came and had no idea what to do!
    So I combined the 2 and became a PR major and a marketing minor. During my senior year of college I realized without a doubt that I didn’t want to follow the PR path because of those Piranhas you speak of. It just wasn’t me! I loved the writing part of it, but not the schmoozing aspect.
    So upon graduation, I went the marketing route, and after years of behind-the-scenes marketing in the dot com world and hi-tech industries, I landed a job in children’s publishing! Now I have the best of both worlds 🙂

    I’m so glad I’m getting to know you Jacklyn, even if it has only been via social media so far. It’s nice to know that there are publicists out there like you!

  6. PR = Personal Relationship. Wow, so true.

    Even though I am in a different profession all of these points are applicable to me. As a brand there have really been key for me in establishing myself with not only my viewers but the coffee companies I work with on a daily basis. I think working a room is most people’s most daunting task. I know it has been for me. The personal relationships part is so natural for me but breaking the ice in order to get to that place is the hardest part. – Though in recent days I have had break through in this area due to really defining what it is that I am doing and why. Knowledge is power. Even if it is only personal empowerment.

    Thanks for sharing your struggle to push yourself to the next level! It is both an encouragement and a confirmation for me to do the same.

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one 🙂 That’s so true when you say we have to get over that barrier in order to get to what we’re good at! When I think about it that way it will be easier to constantly seek to meet new people in a room. Great point Jason! So tell me some more about this breakthrough.

  7. Right on, Jackie! Beautifully written and very wise! Years ago my mentor Carol DeChant wrote an article for a publicity newsletter, “Is a Shy Publicist Oxymoronic?” Her point is similar – that which makes some of us feel “shy” in mixer situations and makes us dread coming off as pushy, assures a sensitivity that makes us better at what we do. It’s crucial in building and nurturing personal relationships. It’s appreciated and responded to, as you’ve seen. And we can’t ever totally lose it because we have to constantly be opening up to new contacts — and pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones.

  8. Ohh, I’m right there with you. “Imposter” is the right word – it’s how I feel most of the time. Glad I’m not alone, either. And like you, I’m much better at one-on-one conversations than “working a room.” Ugh, just writing that phrase makes me shudder.

    Thanks for the post! It helps. 🙂

    • I’m glad I’m not alone in that feeling! Isn’t it funny how you think people in a certain group/profession act a certain way. With the replies to this post I’m seeing there are so many people who feel like me. I’m feeling a bit more normal 🙂 I’m glad it helped!

  9. The most important thing a publicist (and, frankly, any person) can do is smile. A simple smile and hello is all the icebreaker you need to work a room, and even a grouch can recognize it when you’re smiling over the phone. Never fake it, though — be happy to meet a person, be genuine when you work with them. If that’s not possible, move on if you can; stay polite if you can’t.

    I also appreciate confidence from a publicist, whether I’m rejecting a pitch or showing interest. Too much gratitude smacks of desperation. Too little can seem curt. Know what your product (story, idea, etc.) is worth, and sell it so.

    • Arienne, you are so right! How could I forget to include that…a smile. You’re right, if it’s genuine and you are truly happy to meet someone, that is all you need to be equipped with.

      OOO…desperation. When desperate publicists call me to hire them I can’t wait to get off the phone. Same principle you talked about. Know your product (even if it’s you/services) and sell it. Thanks so much for your comment!

  10. Jack,
    not my forum on this subject, but i know that you like the writing, authors and publishing. Maybe this is where you learn both sides of the coin, before you toss and “call it”. I can tell you will not be one of “them” but will have to deal with “them’.
    So live love learn, and know this too shall pass. You know the only person your are really in charge of is you, and from what i know you are doing fine..ask me when you see me what that stands for.
    PS mailed you something today, so look for it, it won’t say you got mail, but you will smile a little.

  11. Love this! I started in PR and switched to journalism, which sort of makes me feel like a salmon. Ha. No seriously, I most liked this: “How can I help you?” What a better place the world would be if we all asked that question more often??…regardless of profession.

  12. I was a communications major with a concentration in journalism. But part of being a journalist is working with publicists and we journos absolutely appreciate the kind, relationship-oriented publicists the best. You’re the publicists we’ll trust when we need a story or if we’re not sure about a project. We will listen to you because you took to the time to listen to us.

    Thanks for this post!

  13. If you ask me, there is nothing better than being genuine. I have PR people call me on the phone and they say hello, how are you, do you have a second. All the right words, but their tone is off. I know they are just getting through the obligatory niceties so they can get on with rattling off their pitch.
    I want someone to actually listen to my answers to those first couple of questions and perhaps engage me with a follow-up based on what I say.
    Once I know I am not being treated as just another anonymous voice in the list of 500 you have to call that day, then you can pitch away.

  14. What a great post! I’m an entertainment journalist myself and work with a ton of publicists so it’s great to hear about it from your end. And I think the two professions really go hand-in-hand and need to realize that I can’t do my job without your help and vice versa.

  15. Pingback: Hello. My name is Jaye and I am a news junkie. « JayeWalking

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