Changing the PR Game with Jason Sprenger, Minnesota PRSA President
I recently had the privilege of speaking with Jason Sprenger (pictured below), president of Game Changer Communications, a public relations and strategic communications consultancy. Jason is the newly elected president of the Minnesota chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) (congratulations!) and has over 15 years of experience working for public relations agencies and corporations, including FICO and Xiotech.
Now that Jason’s Minnesota PRSA presidency is in full swing, we wanted to share with MaccaPR readers some of Jason’s tips, goals and insights as he leads our state’s PR society:
1. As the new president of Minnesota PRSA, what advice do you have for your fellow PR professionals about advancing their careers in 2016?
The advice I‘d give anyone, not only within Minnesota PR but within any industry, is to get involved. I am where I am today because I took advantage of opportunities to get involved through committees, which led to a domino effect: each new opportunity opened the door to another, and I ended up climbing the PRSA ladder to become its local president. I believe that the more you give to any organization, the more you’ll get back in return.
2. Corey duBrowa, SVP of Global Communications at Starbucks, says that 2015 was the year of the “Democratization of Storytelling.” Do you agree?
There’s no doubt that, with the evolution of social media and the proliferation of online channels and platforms, consumers
can now make their voices heard in a way that wasn’t possible before. But I feel that the term “storytelling” has become a cliché. Yes, it describes what PR professionals do, but it also encompasses such a vast landscape that it’s hard to know what “storytelling” means anymore. Now that storytelling has become more of a two-way process, there’s still a lot of room for seasoned counsel and strategic communication. It’s one thing to voice your opinion on Twitter, but it’s another to form a strategic communications plan for a Fortune 500 company. The “democratization of storytelling” has actually given PR professionals the opportunity to prove that we’re still valuable in this era of social media, if not even more valuable than we were before. It’s our job to make our storytelling strategic.
3. With more than 15 years of PR experience, do you think the proliferation of social media has altered the public perception of the PR profession?
The average person still doesn't fully appreciate the role of strategic communications professionals. When I meet someone and tell them I work in public relations, he or she might have the perception that I do one thing, such as managing clients’ social media accounts. And that’s true, but it’s just one tool of many in our tool belts. People both inside and outside of the profession tend to fall victim to “shiny object syndrome;” they identify the latest trend, and use it to define the PR industry, failing to see the bigger picture.
4. How can PR professionals gain buy-in from senior leadership and Show the value of PR to the C-Suite?
Business leaders base their decisions off of three things: money, risk and resources. It’s the PR professional’s job to provide the C-Suite with a tangible value - how will our work advance their business? Heighten productivity? Make money? Lower risk?
We in PR must tie what we do to one or more of those things: dollars earned or saved, lowered risk or increased efficiency. If you look at the PRSA archive of case studies, you can find tons of great examples of campaigns that succeeded in proving the tangible value of public relations to the C-Suite.
At Game Changer, we had a client, Xyratex, which had only gone to market through partners and never under its own native brand. With the acquisition and launch of a new data storage technology product line, it made sense for Xyratex to go to market with its partners. For the first time, the company would be marketing, selling and supporting products using its own name, brand and messaging. Game Changer helped Xyratex build its brand and develop a strategic communications plan to advance the particular product as well as the entire business. These efforts contributed to the eventual sale of that product line for $340 million - a profit of $220 million over the initial purchase price of $120 million - less than two years after it was acquired. See more details in the full case study.
5. Which measurement strategies do you employ throughout a campaign to prove PR value to your clients?
Many measurement tools are at our disposal. But the bigger question you need to ask when measuring results is: what are the bigger corporate objectives you're supporting?
Once those are identified, you can determine which metrics are most appropriate to use. It could include any number of metrics - visibility, impressions, click-thrus, sales lead generation, pipeline growth - but what’s most important is that the metrics tie back to your corporate objectives.
I like to say, what you measure, you achieve. As communicators, we want to ensure that our work impacts a business; we don’t just want to gather media clips for the sake of getting a client in the newspaper.
6. What resources do you use to stay up-to-date on PR trends, both locally and industry-wide?
I do a lot of reading not only to stay up-to-date on the PR industry, but also to stay on top of current events. Sometimes I’ll see content that’s directly applicable to a client's business, which might open up a discussion or lead to a new opportunity. As PR professionals, it’s our job to invest in ourselves to translate what's going on in the world to our clients’ organizations. There is no way to make an impact on the news if you don't know the news.
7. Having worked in both corporate and agency settings, what are the main differences you've seen as a PR professional?
There are pros and cons to both working environments. It comes down to figuring out what you do well, what you enjoy doing and in which environment you fit the best.
There are two fundamental differences between working in corporate communications and agency public relations.
- The first is: Whose business are you really in? When working in an agency or as a freelancer, you're in the public relations and strategic communications business. If you’re working in a corporate setting, you're in the business of whatever business your company is in. There’s a difference in your way of thinking and approach to decision-making based on which category you fall into. In the corporate world, decisions are made based on what is good for the business. In an agency, you base your way of thinking on what is good for your business, which is public relations - quite a different industry than IBM or Target. It’s really an interesting distinction, but what matters most is that you work in the type of environment that best suits you.
- The second difference has to do with the cultures of corporate America and PR. When working at a company, you’ll have more meetings and more conference calls; things move at a slower pace. PR agencies, by their nature, are nimble. There’s no way to know each morning what you will be doing that day, and you have to be okay with that. You have to embrace the constant change and working extra hours. Some people might love working for a corporation and following an 8-5 schedule, while others might enjoy the agency culture and working with clients.
8. As the new Minnesota PRSA president, what are you hoping to see from the chapter this year? Do you have any big goals in mind?
First of all, we are an incredibly strong chapter, as I’ve outlined on the Minnesota PRSA blog. We have talented people that produce high quality work; and our members are engaged and care tremendously about what they do, while also wanting to help each other. Our nearly 80 volunteers are doing jobs that significantly benefit the rest of the chapter, and my goal for the chapter this year is to keep that going!
What I am trying to do is work with committees to build on what we already have and create more value for members. Minnesota PRSA has got a good thing going, and I'm darn proud to be a part of it! Learn more about the benefits of becoming a member of Minnesota PRSA.
Do you have a question for Jason? Comment below!
Julia Irwin is an assistant account executive at Minneapolis-based Maccabee, a strategic public relations and online marketing agency.